One doesn’t dabble in packaging: Interview with titan James D. Downham, President & CEO PAC Packaging Consortium

One doesn’t dabble in packaging: Interview with titan James D. Downham President & CEO PAC Packaging ConsortiumWhen one discusses packaging with a titan, don’t start in the middle of the story. Sure, consumer demand, environmental conscientiousness and the strong push to right size and minimize packaging are driving the industry. But … according to Jim (James) Downham, President and CEO of PAC Packaging Consortium, the non-profit organization that advocates for progressive change in the entire packaging value chain, that’s starting in the middle of the packaging story. This is an especially important point as printers eye increasing revenues by expanding into packaging.

Downham, starts the packaging story at the beginning. “The discussion that’s dominating the packaging landscape today is everything to do with plastic and the environment. Today, recovery of all packaging is seen as the moral imperative so any waste doesn’t end up in our oceans and rivers.”

While plastic is the preferred packaging material, there is a strong consumer focal point on recycle/reuse that is pulling everyone in packaging to buck up and move from servicing a consumption society of single use containers to a circular economy where packaging is continually resurrected from dust bins, reused and recycled infinitely.

Downham is emphatic. “Whatever packaging is produced today must continue on to its next life. That’s the big story in a nutshell. It’s complicated. It includes sustainability and more importantly the circular economy.”

The circular economy’s basic philosophy is to make, use and return. That approach is diametrically opposed to today’s linear economy of take, make, and dispose. Applying the circular economy is a radically different business model. Companies participating in the economy don’t just recycle products; they maintain ownership of the product and packaging along the entire value chain.

Take Philips. It shifted its business model from selling a lightbulb to offering lighting as a service – a managed service, where Philips retains ownership of the lightbulb and its system maintenance. It brokers with power generating companies on behalf of clients to secure the energy to power the lights at a fixed price for a specified period of time. Firms practicing a circular economy have a strong incentive to be cost effective and efficient.

In May 2019, Mr. François Olivier President and Chief Executive Officer of TC Transcontinental (a leader in flexible packaging in North America and Canada’s largest printer) announced the introduction of circular plastic in Québec. It pledged that The Publisac, the plastic bag that holds weekly flyers will be made of 100% recycled plastic starting in the fall of 2019.

Moving to a circular economy not only reduces costs. It pulls the entire value packaging chain of production processes and materials to redesign its processes and products, While retooling costs can be overcome, changing the mindset of industry and consumers alike is a huge hurdle to overcome. Downham acknowledges that educating everyone in the complexities of the packaging industry can be seen by many as inconvenient. “It’s going to take patience and considerable education on everyone’s part. And there is the realization that it won’t be solved in our lifetime.”

On the other hand, Downham is energized by the packaging industry. It’s dynamic. There are lots of opportunities and innovation is nurtured.  Moreover, the entire packaging community is engaged and serious about addressing its problems.

While graphic art is part of the packaging industry, there is a need for caution. Printers should not simply dabble in packaging. It takes more than a press to enter the packaging business. Before printers shift resources to packaging, they need to do their due diligence and educate themselves on the complexities of packaging.

PAC Packaging Consortium is the unified voice of the packaging community Founded in 1950, it is an all-inclusive North American-centric corporation boasting over 2,500 members throughout the packaging value chain. PAC’s mission is to drive progressive change in the packaging value chain through leadership, collaboration and knowledge sharing. It advocates for all materials and package neutrality. Its networking process includes PAC education programs, competitions, facility tours, tradeshows and working groups.

Jim Downham is a former package manufacturing CEO & President. In 2014 he was inducted into the Packaging Hall of Fame. Under Jim’s leadership, PAC has created several packaging programs including the PAC GLOBAL LEADERSHIP AWARDS; PAC NEXT and PAC FOOD Sustainability Programs; PACed Certificate Program; and the IFS PAC secure GFSI benchmarked food packaging safety standard; and intelliPACK, A Smart Packaging Innovation Catalyst.

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