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Online shopping and disruptive technologies creating opportunity for paper & board industry

30 October 2020: Legislation, tariffs, subsidies and climate change, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic … all these are having an impact in our daily life. Online sales of packaged goods have increased. According to a report by Smithers, in the USA alone, packaging demand increased by 8% during the month of April 2020. After the pandemic subsides, long term, demand for packaging will probably exceed historical averages by one or two percent.

The top 20 disruptive technologies in paper and board covered in this new report from Smithers can be grouped into four general categories: Impact of the internet on consumer behaviour; digitisation of the paper and board industry; paper and board substitution for plastic; and internal transformation of the paper and board industry. The technologies with the highest likelihood of technical success have all been installed on a commercial scale to some extent, including internet shopping, electronic media, paper machine conversions, digital inkjet printing of corrugated, bioenergy generation, and lightweighting.

The internet, which has spawned e-commerce and electronic media, has had a major impact not only on the paper and board industry but on the way we work and live. Now it is possible from the comfort of a computer keyboard or smartphone to search the entire world for something through platforms such as Amazon, Alibaba and eBay.

Most technologies ranked in the top 20 are in the digitisation category. Key digital technologies include: Intelligent/smart sensors, Big Data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML); precision controls for fast grade changes; digital printing of corrugated (inkjet); robotics; cybersecurity; and precision forestry.

In the next decade, legislation will be in place in the US, Europe and China to ban single-use plastics and insist that most other plastic be recycled. Despite the fact that over half the paper and board in the US is recycled, less than 10% of plastics now are. The plastics industry is making major investments in technologies to recycle plastics. Compostable plastic is based on plant-based polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA) which is a sustainable raw material. If successful, these efforts will diminish paper’s advantages in recycling and thereby limit paper and board’s potential market share.

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