ECMA Congress 2018 preview

Brexit and its impact on businesses to take centre stage at ECMA Congress

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

ECMA & Pro Carton to host the European Carton Excellence Awards. Photo: Pro Carton.
ECMA & Pro Carton to host the European Carton Excellence Awards. Photo: Pro Carton.

Related tags Brexit Circular economy Sustainability Carton

Brexit, the Circular Economy, plastic waste and digital technology are some of the highlights at this year’s ECMA (European Carton Makers Association) Congress.

The theme at this year’s event, in Riga, Latvia​, (September 20-21) will be: 'Thinking Beyond the Board, Performance in a Changing Market'.  

'Growing concern'

According to ECMA, the UK's vote to leave the EU raises complicated questions in the UK, the rest of the EU and beyond, across all business sectors and the full impact of Brexit is still uncertain.

The Association has invited David Gabathuler, consultant, Baker Botts (UK) international law firm to talk about the impact it will have on businesses.

We are moving towards the most crucial phase of the Brexit negotiations. By the end of October the Brexit Deal between the UK and the EU should probably be completed, to give both parliaments time to examine the result and to make sure everything is prepared before the deadline on March 29, 2019​,” said ECMA in a statement.

At a joint press conference on March 19, 2018, David Davis and Michel Barnier representing the UK and the European Union announced the agreement in principle to a draft Withdrawal Agreement (“WA”) containing a transitional period of 21 months, i.e. from the entry into force of the withdrawal agreement (no later than March 30, 2019) until December 31, 2020.

But formal ratification will be required, because ‘Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’

But after the publication of the UK Government’s ‘White Paper on The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, the situation has not improved and even more chaos has been the result. The Conservative Party is in a state of civil war, with MPs attacking each other on the Brexit issue and seemingly incapable of uniting around a common narrative.

Whether there will be a deal between the UK and the EU is still uncertain. There’s a growing concern about a no deal Brexit. So will there be a deal or no deal, a second ‘Final Say’ referendum or even general elections?​”

Significant costs

According to BusinessEurope; “Businesses now lack the clarity to prepare adequately for Brexit, and the possibility of a “cliff-edge” scenario whereby the UK leaves the EU and ends the transition phase without an agreement on the future relationship remains a high risk​."

Brexit could lead to significant costs for businesses. Both the EU and the UK must move forward to deliver the best possible outcome and pursue the closest possible relationship for the benefit of its companies and citizens, all while safeguarding the integrity of the European Single Market.

ECMA could not agree more with the above mentioned statement. Our industry needs clarity and a close future relationship between the UK and the EU to guarantee the free movement of goods (and services), also to prevent traditional border formalities will be reintroduced​,” an ECMA spokesman added. 

Other highlights of the congress include the ‘Circular Economy: Opportunities for Paper and Board’ with a presentation entitled: ‘Plastic Soup and Single Use Plastics’, by Maria Westerbos, founder/director, of the Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

On the theme of sustainability, Timothy Barker, director, Truffula (UK) sustainability consultancy and Tony Hitchin, general manager, Pro Carton (UK) will look at a study commissioned by Pro Carton comparing cartonboard and plastic packaging, and Pro Carton’s view on sustainability and cartons in the circular economy.

Last year Pro Carton published a report​ with Smithers Pira which found while 96% of respondents believe sustainable packaging is important, and one third feel it is well embedded in their business culture, the primary strategy of 70% of the brands and retailers interviewed was to focus on reducing packaging weight and volume, rather than assessing the materials that could provide greater environmental and sustainability improvements.

Recycle & Reuse 

With the spotlight now on brands moving away from newly-manufactured or virgin plastics, and the EU calling for every piece of packaging produced by 2030 to be recyclable, the packaging debate has been dominated by the means in which we recycle and reuse packaging, rather than which materials we use in the first place​,” said Hitchin. 

While it is a positive thing that brands and retailers rank recyclability so high, the focus appears to be on end of life rather than whole life cycle when assessing the sustainability of packaging formats​. 

By assessing the whole life cycle, brands can improve the environmental performance of packaging – from ‘cradle to grave’ or even “cradle to cradle” which is the principle of the circular economy​.” 

The study found while packaging design is important, protecting the product, recyclability and technical performance are key. 

However, the use of sustainable (renewable materials) was the lowest ranked factor, with less than 30% of respondents considering this a critical factor for packaging design. Respondents in Germany were the only country to rank using renewable materials as the most important criterion, suggesting further education on the materials available, and the applications most suited to them, is still needed throughout the rest of Europe. 

The congress will also feature a panel discussion on ‘Digital Transformation – The Time Is Changing’, looking at the changes of consumer behaviour and the application of digital technology.

The discussion, moderated by Ian Peterkin, divisional sales director, Multi Packaging Solutions (MPS) will include different suppliers talking about their perspective of digital transformation with regard to: Integration from front to end; Workflow Automation; Cardboard and digital printing and Finishing solutions in a digital workflow.

There will also be a presentation from Ian Schofield, own label & packaging manager, Iceland Foods UK talking about how Iceland is planning to become the first major retailer globally to eliminate plastic packaging​ from all of its own brand products by the end of 2023. 

The event will finish with the European Carton Excellence Awards​ in association with Pro Carton.

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