LAS VEGAS — Sustainability may have taken a backseat to other concerns in 2020, but it was top of mind at Pack Expo Las Vegas, held Sept. 27-29.

“Last year the main challenge for consumer packaged goods (CPG) was to keep up with demand while limping on the workforce side,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice president of market development at PMMI. “That’s why we saw so much investment in packaging equipment, but that also moved some of the attention away from sustainability.”

However, Mr. Izquierdo pointed out that in PMMI’s survey of 100 CPG companies, sustainability was still very much a priority with two challenges at the forefront: operational efficiency and defining sustainability.

Operational efficiency when it comes to sustainable materials remains the No. 1 challenge with packaging. Parameters like pressure, temperature and time for these films deviate from conventional films, and the industry has yet to find the sweet spot for running these materials efficiently.

“These companies know their lines will slow down running these materials, but they want to find the optimum point of performance for the new material,” Mr. Izquierdo said. “That takes time, and CPGs want to shorten the time that takes.”

Defining sustainability is the other challenge as it is constantly evolving. Often sustainability goals can be driven by consumer demand that may or may not be based in scientific research or may not look at the bigger picture. For example, the impact of food waste on the environment may be bigger than the impact of plastic, yet consumers often demand the reduction or elimination of plastic even when it might be the right choice for that product.

“The challenge is to get a definition of the real meaning of sustainability and that’s still very much in the air,” Mr. Izquierdo.