“Metropolitan Areas as the Raw Material Centers of the Future”

Gunhard Keil from Vienna is an entrepreneur, consultant, and keynote speaker for the Zukunftsinstitut. At FACHPACK, he will give the opening talk of the trade fair in the Breakfast Talk entitled “Stucture Follows Strategy or Customer Follows Packaging? Bold Thoughts on the Future of the Supply Chain”. In an interview with packaging-360.com, Keil reveals some of his cheeky thoughts in advance.

You run a large forestry business in Austria with your wife, have studied psychology and law, and also run an IT company with locations in Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. What is your connection to the packaging industry?

Gunhard Keil: I spent 15 years providing consulting services to leading companies in the packaging industry in Europe. I acted as a process consultant, looking at the supply chain and distribution channels from the outside. This gave me deep insights into the industry and, above all, into the transport channels.

Please give us an advance sample of your cheeky thoughts on the future of the supply chain.

Keil: I see metropolitan areas as the commodity centers of the future. Whether in New York, Beijing, or Frankfurt, the material for recyclates is found where the greatest waste is generated. And that’s where the recyclates should be produced. After all, this is also wherethey will be consumed again. So, instead of concentrated large-scale plants, several medium-sized production sites for recyclates will be created. A significant amount of recyclable material is in packaging, and this waste is still mainly incinerated. This will have to change.

But the German Packaging Institute, speaking for the industry, says that the environmental footprint of food, for example, is 16 to 30 times greater than that of packaging.

It depends on where and what you measure. When food is sensibly recycled, the picture is different again. Especially regarding voluminous transport packaging and flexible product packaging. To get a change like this going, you need either complete cost transparency or regulations. My guess is that, in the future, punitive taxes will be levied on non-recyclable packaging material. There will be more regulation to drive decarbonization. I’m not psychic, but that’s my opinion.

What other developments do you see in the future?

Keil: There will be a lot of changes in logistics. Sooner or later, freight transport will have to pay for what it has consumed in terms of infrastructure. Road damage caused by the weight of trucks will have to be financed by the ones who caused them. A heavy truck causes 50 to 60 times as much damage as the average passenger car. The transport of goods will then not only become more expensive due to higher fuel prices, but also due to this surcharge.

So, in the end, everyone will have to bear the costs once again.

Keil: Yes, we have no choice but to add the real costs to individual segments. Logistics plays a major role in this. But you also have to ask yourself which traffic volumes are really necessary. Do I have to get my packaged water from France when the tap water – at least in Vienna – is just as good? It is enough to activate common sense. Incidentally, those who have smart, intelligent products are ahead of the game in this debate about sustainability and production costs.

Sustainability is an unbroken trend in the packaging industry, where do you think gaps still exist in practice?

Keil: There could be more recyclable transport packaging. There may also be standard containers for more everyday packaging in the future. This regulatory intervention would be due to sustainability.

From the consumer perspective: people have to spend more money on basic food and energy. Is there anything left for choosing sustainable packaging?

Keil: There is no choice, packaging is becoming more sustainable, and prices are going up. If ecology becomes a commercial value, then consumers will have to accept and embrace that. Those who don’t do so voluntarily will have to be made to do so via regulation. Packaging made of 100 percent recyclable material has a commercial value. The change in buying behavior has already begun. Plastic is being avoided more and more.

How far has the packaging industry come with digitalization?

Keil: There are huge differences between the individual companies. Those who miss out on digitization or even decide against it are opting for a limited market.

Supply chain bottlenecks and shortages of materials and raw materials have been in the headlines for months. What is your advice to the industry?

Keil: In a crisis, you have the greatest opportunity to gain trust. I, therefore, advise transparency, and communication should be designed to make long-term statements. You don’t have to justify why you can’t deliver at the moment, but you can explain. If you want to build trust, you should give honest forecasts for the future instead of whining.

by Anna Ntemiris

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