Sustainable packaging
in the industry 

Companies today are expected to reduce their carbon footprints. One of the easiest and fastest ways of achieving this goal is the consistent use of sustainable industrial packaging. Sustainable packaging is a central factor in any green supply chain. This page provides information about the choice of industrial packaging that is available, details of the European Union’s framework conditions for packaging manufacturers, and how companies can establish and maintain an eco-friendly packaging cycle.

Sustainable packaging: The European Union defines the future framework
conditions with the  Action Plan for the Circular Economy.

One of the starting points for industrial companies seeking to cut carbon emissions and achieve their sustainability goals should be packaging. As resources become increasingly scarce and expensive, there is also an increased focus on recycling and reconditioning. The European Union, for example, proposed  forward-looking targets and requirements for reuse and recycling in its draft EU Packaging Regulation in November 2022. In addition, 10 million tons of recycled plastics are to be used in new products on the EU market in 2025. This corresponds to around 20% of the total amount processed in 2017.

What functions does packaging perform? 

Depending on the area of application, packaging performs different functions. Essentially, packaging ensures the efficient distribution of goods. A range of different types of packaging is used to transport goods of different classes from the point of origin to the consumer. Industrial and bulk hazardous goods packaging in particular protects the environment from exposure to hazardous products and, thanks to the stable construction, also protects the goods that are being transported.

In the B2B and B2C sectors, packaging also serves to provide information and can be used for advertising purposes. Using printing and labelling, companies can communicate information to downstream users or consumers. 

Packaging also fulfils technical application functions. With the right dimensions and a modular design, for example, packaging can help to make optimum use of freight space.

What types of packaging are available?

Packaging comes in many shapes, materials and sizes. It can be classified in different categories, depending on the area of applicationand where it is being used

  • Sales packaging 

    Sales packaging enables and facilitates the transfer of goods to downstream users and consumers. They are divided into the three subcategories – shipping packaging, service packaging and product packaging – which are distinguished as follows:

    Shipping packaging

    • Used for dispatching products
    • Indirect transfer of the goods 
    • Disposal of the used shipping packaging is the responsibility of the user
    • The most frequently used types include bags, cartons and folding boxes
    • Often includes additional materials such as bubble wrap, sticky tape and plastic bands

    Service packaging 

    • Packaging that companies hand out directly to the consumer
    • For example, to-go cups, pizza boxes or paper bags

    Product packaging 

    • Protects the goods inside the packaging and extends their shelf life
    • Sold direct to the consumer 
    • Can provide information on specific contents or product benefits; branding is usually featured on the outside of the packaging
    • Important advertising and communication space used by producers to draw the attention of consumers
    • Disposal of the used packaging is the responsibility of the consumer
    • Typical examples: yoghurt pots, jam jars
  • Retail packaging

    Retail packaging is the outer packaging that covers the sales packaging as a protective second layer and is delivered directly to retailers. As well as its protective function, the surface of this packaging is also used to display information or advertising messages. 

  • Transport packaging

    Transport packaging protects goods from exposure and damage during transport and storage. This type of packaging facilitates shipping and serves to ensure that the goods are protected. Examples of transport packaging include transport pallets and stretch films.

  • Industrial packaging 

    Industrial packaging is used to ship goods between the manufacturer and the company using the product. The right industrial packaging allows goods to be stored and transported safely, easily and swiftly. This type of packaging requires less material than sales packaging because less space is required for advertising and information.

    Typical examples of industrial packaging:

    •  Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC)
    • Jerrycans
    • Steel and plastic drums
    • Box pallets
    • Buckets
    • Sacks

    Due to their universal applicability, these containers are used in a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals and chemicals, the construction sector and the food and beverage industries. This type of packaging, often with a large volume capable of holding up to 1,250 litres, plays a central role in the global movement of goods. For hazardous goods, this packaging also helps to protect the environment.

    All around the world millions of transport containers are used every day to safely transport and store a wide variety of filling products. These industrial packaging solutions are essential, indispensable components in the supply chain, especially for hazardous substances

Historical overview: How packaging has evolved over the years

 Over the decades, manufacturers have continuously developed and improved their industrial packaging. Until the beginning of the 20th century, glass was the preferred material for transporting chemicals. Gradually, steel drums took over and replaced glass entirely.

In the mid-1960s, the plastic drum was introduced. With its low weight and good resistance to chemicals, this type of industrial packaging quickly gained acceptance.

In the 1970s, the first Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) developed by SCHÜTZ combined all the advantages of steel and plastic drums. The container had an integrated pallet for better protection and stability, and the product was a hit with customers and users alike. Compared to conventional cylindrical drums, its innovative footprint ensured significantly better space utilisation during transport and storage. The IBCs were also much easier to handle with a forklift truck or pallet truck.

Since the invention of the IBC, industrial packaging manufacturers have devoted significant effort to further optimising the design. For example, over the years, wall thicknesses and the weight of the overall system have been significantly reduced.

Reusing products is the cornerstone of an effective circular economy. Long before collection systems for product packaging were introduced in Europe in the early 1990s, SCHÜTZ was already taking back industrial packaging from the user, and the company remains a pioneer in recycling, reuse and sustainability.

Sustainability – a cornerstone of the circular economy

Eco-friendly, recyclable packaging is now an important component in the global movement of goods. The demand for sustainable solutions is set to rise even higher, especially in the next few years as consumers, manufacturers of consumer goods and retailers increasingly demand environmentally friendly packaging. According to the Statista report “Sustainable Consumption 2021”, one in two consumers is changing their consumption behaviour to be more sustainable. On the path to climate neutrality, businesses cannot avoid weighing up the environmental balance of their packaging materials, both across intralogistical processes and in worldwide shipping.

The most effective solution is to take an integrated approach along the entire value chain. Sustainable industrial packaging solutions do not have to mean compromising on functionality or cost-effectiveness. On the contrary: packaging with outstanding quality can contribute to ensuring that industrial packaging meets all legal requirements for sustainability.

Current legislation requirements

The legal requirements for the production and use of packaging are continuously being tightened, and businesses must additionally comply with regional regulations. In its action plan for the circular economy and the draft for a new packaging regulation, the European Union has specified the quotas for recycling, reuse and the use of recycled material that will apply to plastic packaging. These requirements are already having a noticeable impact by driving demand for packaging solutions with a high content of recycled materials.

What makes packaging more sustainable?

In today’s manufacturing world, the environmental compatibility of packaging is both a quality feature and a competitive advantage, putting the focus in packaging production on recycling and the reusability of products. To make logistics more eco-friendly along the supply chain, it pays to invest in a sustainable circular packaging economy.

To date, there is no precise definition of the criteria that make packaging sustainable. Some sustainability goals can even be mutually contradictory; for example, reusable bottles are resource-saving, but transporting them can generate additional carbon emissions.

It depends on the intended application whether the packaging is single-use or reusable, and whether it should be made of recycled plastic or cardboard. For example, the safety and sustainability requirements in the chemical or pharmaceutical sector demand very high packaging quality. For the transport of chemicals, IBCs with plastic inner bottles are particularly suitable as plastic is usually resistant to chemicals. 

  • How can industrial packaging be produced more sustainably?

    Sustainability means that all structures and processes consistently work together to combine environmental and social responsibilityEnsuring that the entire life cycle of the packaging is focused on maximum environmental friendliness allows businesses to achieve long-term, sustainable and economic success. 

    This is where the principle of the circular economy begins. An ecological packaging cycle is based on three principles: 

    1. Use recyclable or recycled raw materials in the production of packaging. 
    2. Develop products with an optimised circular economy in mind. The design should be adapted to ensure that the individual components can be recycled. 
    3. Recycle materials efficiently through optimised logistics (supply chain).

    With the aid of state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, research and development, companies can consistently reduce the weight of their packaging and thus conserve resources. The reduction in energy and materials should never compromise the full functionality of the packaging.

The circular economy of industrial packaging and why it matters 

The circular economy is an important approach for making industrial packaging more sustainable. Only with a fully functional packaging cycle can the carbon footprint of packaging be minimised.

The basic requirement for the circular economy is packaging that can be recycled. In other words, the materials must be recyclable so that they can be used again as raw materials to make new packaging. This requires sorting and recycling processes that break the used packaging down into its individual components and efficiently recycle them.

For the circular economy to work, another factor is required: emptied industrial packaging must be returned to the cycle by the user. This ensures that there is a sufficient quantity of materials available for plastic recovery and recycling, which in turn can be used to make packaging with a content of recyclate.

Recyclate and its significance for industrial packaging

The use of plastic recyclate in industrial packaging is one of the main ways for companies to achieve their sustainability goals in the area of packaging. As a result, material cycles in plastic packaging are particularly successful. The plastic HDPE from IBCs or drums can be reconditioned using a variety of cleaning and treatment processes and then reused to produce new packaging.

More and more companies are recognising the positive impact of using recycled plastic in packaging. Accordingly, the demand  for IBCs and drums with a higher proportion of recycled plastic is rising. Currently, however, the necessary quantities of recyclate are often not yet available to meet demand fully and cost-effectively. Manufacturers are dependent on users feeding their emptied packaging back into the material cycle


Practical example: 

Green Lifecycle Management by SCHÜTZ

 In order to keep the carbon footprint of industrial packaging as small as possible, SCHÜTZ has introduced a comprehensive Green Lifecycle Management concept. This is based on the following four pillars:


    Continuous optimisation and performance enhancement of packaging through the use of the most advanced manufacturing processes and extensive technological know-how.


    Worldwide collection of IBCs and drums  after emptying.


    Reconditioning of emptied packaging according to the highest environmental and safety standards. Each IBC steel grid and the pallet is cleaned and repaired in a  complex reconditioning process for the next use.


    The inner bottles replaced during reconditioning and collected plastic drums are recycled. The recyclate obtained this way is used again for plastic packaging components and other items.

Recyclate in IBC inner bottles and drums

SCHÜTZ has refined the material recycling processes to a degree that different grades of HDPE can be recovered, with low odour and in a uniform colour, depending on the desired application. The recyclate can then be used for the production of plastic packaging components as well as for inner bottles.

Using state-of-the-art 3-layer extrusion blow moulding processes, SCHÜTZ also uses 30% high-quality, natural-coloured recycled material to make the inner bottles and drums in its Green Layer product series. The recyclate is used exclusively in the middle layer of the three-layer inner bottles. This means that both the surroundings and the filling products only come into contact with virgin material. The products in the Green Layer series are ideally suited as eco-friendly packaging for numerous applications as they offer maximum safety, a low operating weight and a significant reduction of the carbon footprint.


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