Population, Prosperity, and Packaging Challenges Ahead
Enormous growth in population and income will inspire packaging professionals to create new, environmentally conscious technology.
William C. Pflaum, executive director, Institute of Packaging Professionals
Here's an exciting prospect for the pharmaceutical packaging professional: We're in for a global expansion in both population and prosperity of a magnitude never seen before. This means that the packaging industry will experience unprecedented growth in the next 50 years. It also means packaging professionals will have to think globally, finding ways to serve the needs of many while remaining sensitive to the environment.
The United Nations expects global population, now nearing 6 billion, to jump nearly 60% in the next 50 years. That's 3.4 billion additional people—enough to equal, by today's counts, 1½ new Chinas . . . or 3½ new Indias . . . or 12 new North Americas.
In addition, in East Asia, China, Latin America, and elsewhere, per capita annual incomes are rising. The world's economy is expected to quadruple to $138 trillion by 2050. (To put this into some perspective, growth in global output in the first seven years of this decade alone was $5 trillion, which outstrips the growth from the beginning of civilization 10,000 years ago to 1950.) Thanks to global communications, billions of people in these improving economies see and hear about products that are new to them. Further, they are slowly gaining the economic means to acquire these products.
What this signifies is clear: more products, more packages. The World Packaging Organisation estimates that packaging now represents 1.5 to 2.5% of a country's gross domestic product. As populations and per capita income grow, so will packaging consumption. This is a great growth opportunity, but growth has its price.
The present combination of population and consumption already stretches the limits of the world's physical resources; obviously, further growth will place even more strain on our planet. It is urgent that the packaging industry use its professional energy to integrate the requirements of humanity and the opportunity for business expansion with the need to keep Earth's ecosystems in balance. Innovation, technology transfer, and business expansion must take into account global resources as well as global demand.
The packaging industry cannot just work harder to meet the rising demands of an increasing population. Instead, we will need to develop new kinds of technology and adapt today's technology for tomorrow.
To succeed in the next 50 years, the global packaging community must demonstrate initiative and innovation. We will need an industry-wide consensus and commitment to education and research. That commitment needs to begin at the university level, where packaging technology must compete effectively with computer engineering, science, and other traditional disciplines for students' attention. We must champion our needs at the corporate level, too, looking for budgets not just for new machinery but also for training and research and development.
And we must think ahead. Unless we take responsible action now, the opportunity to benefit from a new kind of technical revolution will be lost. "The challenge facing the entire world," concludes Lester R. Brown, president of the WorldWatch Institute in Washington, DC, "is to design an economy that can satisfy the basic needs of people everywhere without self-destructing. The enormity of this task is matched only by its urgency."
William C. Pflaum is executive director of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. He may be contacted at 703/318-8970 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.