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In-depth analysis: SUP Directive and Tethered Caps

Caps & Closures market is going to be shaken by the new European law on plastic pollution, setting up new challenges to be faced.

Post published on 27/06/2019

Single-use Plastic Directive: a focus on its requests and market implications

Published on June 12th, in the Official Journal of the European Union, was the (EU) directive 2019/904, otherwise known as the “SUP Directive” (“Single-use plastic”) and dubbed, for those who are specifically involved in the plastic cap and closures production chain, as the “Tethered caps directive”. So, according to procedure, on July 2nd the directive will come into force for all intents and purposes.

Its official publication marked the move from draft directive to final directive. The date of June 12th is significant in many ways, insofar as it officially begins the “countdown” towards the deadline for bringing the products involved up to standard. Remember that plastic closures are, in fact, one of the many plastic single-use products that will have to be adapted in some way to comply with the new parameters and restrictions.

Concentrating therefore on the world of closures, it is fair to ask: how much will the products change and, consequently, what impact will this directive have on the market? The answer is not an easy one, but soon we will be able to say that the impact will be considerable. The process forecasted is even more tricky in view of the fact that to date, no technical regulations have been drawn up yet to numerically standardise the provisions of the directive, although we have indeed received the list of the national regulatory bodies that will be involved in drawing up these so-called “harmonised standards”. The directive does however set the deadline for the publication of such standards, which is October 3rd 2019. It is also worth remembering that the caps and closures sector will have to comply with the directive within five years of its implementation, that deadline being set as July 2024.

Within this framework – still being formulated – IMA Automation has immediately put itself at the front line to follow each stage of the procedure in detail and to constantly analyse the market and understand its direction, so as to be a reliable and constantly updated point of reference.

To date, certain general elements, set forth by the directive, foresee that the plastic closure of a container for beverages may not be detached from the same in the cases that meet the following parameters:

  • Plastic caps and closures (excluding caps in metal with plastic seals);
  • Containers in plastic or plastic composites (beverage cartons, for example);
  • Containers of max three litres capacity;

The directive also explicitly excludes:

  • Containers in glass and metal;
  • Regardless of the material of the container or the closure, cases in which the product contained is a beverage for specific medical use (according to that set forth by EU regulations).

Based on these preliminary parameters, the companies affected are making efforts to find solutions that can balance out the costs of conversion with the need maintain unaltered established customer usage habits. In other words, a “UX” or User Experience approach, where the optimal point will therefore be a balance between many factors, in an effort not to lose market share despite brave yet risky experimentation.

In this sense the 2019 edition of the AMI Consulting “Plastic Closure Innovations”, held in Barcelona from June 3rd to 5th, was particularly significant.  The event, this year in its seventh edition, was a definite success in terms of attendance, registering the highest flow since its inception. Of course, the main focus was in fact on the SUP directive and on the necessary evaluations in terms of the circular economy of plastic, including recycling techniques.

The many speakers there provided considerable food for thought and different viewpoints regarding the issue, however everyone nonetheless agreed that the problems the directive aims to curb, namely the pollution of seas and coastlines, exist and the companies involved must take the situation very seriously.

The directive undoubtedly also provides for some interesting opportunities. While on the one hand it will force us to face a range of conversion costs, on the other hand end users are increasingly aware of and concerned about the environment, making the introduction of “eco-friendly” caps on the market a highly important market lever. Another potentially advantageous factor concerns production technologies. Having to modify their products, the companies involved could be motivated to invest into the technological updating of their production lines as well as into greater process flexibility. It is indeed important to underline that, despite the lack of certainties, the feeling in the trade is that the directive could lead to future complications,  considering that the EU is extremely interested, both on an economic as well as social level, in addition to a decidedly political one, in continuing in the direction set out by this directive. Plus, broadening the horizons, the situation seems to be oriented towards growing attention to the problem outside of Europe, with even California having adopted in mid 2018 a very similar restrictive measure, making it reasonable to think that other parts of the globe may do the very same.

IMA Automation, aware of the challenges at hand, is nonetheless making major investments into flexible and reliable technologies, ones that provide a concrete response to the needs of this ever-changing market. During the AMI conference, a very important concept was discussed, namely alliances and synergies between the industries in the supply chain, with the goal of optimising and sharing efforts in developing closures in compliance with the law. From the viewpoint of  IMA Automation, this is one of the most welcome strategic approaches, in that it can offer clients an efficient and speedy series of tools, skills and solutions to tackle the development and engineering phases for new products, trying in the best way possible to achieve the goal set by the  “User Experience” strategy, reducing market risks as much as possible.

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