29 March 2023 • 8 mins

Mike Nithavrianakis

UK-Italy Collaboration in Sustainable Packaging and Circular Economy: Why the New Investment Opportunities are Green

By Mike Nithavrianakis, Consul General and Country Director, Trade, Italy

The world produces an estimated 141 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year and plastic production, use and disposal contributes about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

The UK packaging industry employs some 85,000 people – representing 3% of the UK manufacturing industry workforce – and has sales in excess of £11 Billion (The Packaging Federation).

Its productivity is more than double that of all industries’ average performance and the UK is a world leader in product innovation and manufacturing technology.

However, with more and more people and corporations becoming aware of climate change issues, the market has also recorded an increasing demand from businesses and consumers for sustainable packaging made from new and environmentally friendly materials.

This allows for products to be reused, recycled, and disposed of sustainably. In the UK, initiatives such as the WRAP UK Plastics Pact aim to end unnecessary single-use packaging by 2025 and turning 100% plastic packaging into a reusable, recyclable, or compostable source.

Paolo Marini

Paolo Marini
Italy CEO of DS Smith


The whole industry has seen the growing and fast-moving demand for packaging solutions that are more circular and have less impact on the environment.

To explore the new market trends and opportunities in the industry, the UK’s Consul General and Director of the Department for International Trade in Italy, Mike Nithavrianakis, has been in talks with Paolo Marini, Italy CEO of the British sustainable packaging company DS Smith, a leading sustainable packaging company headquartered in London that in 2022 opened a new manufacturing site in the region of Emilia Romagna, Northern Italy.

Mike: What role does sustainable packaging play in today’s economy, especially around the growing e-commerce trends and changing consumer behaviours, and why does it represent an opportunity?

Paolo: Green has gone mainstream. Consumer values have clearly changed, and people increasingly want brands to help them live sustainably. Sustainability and the Circular Economy are now very prominent terms in business vocabulary but for us, it has been in our DNA for many years, and it will drive our strategy for the future.

At DS Smith, making the transition from the Linear to the Circular Economy is core to our Purpose of Redefining Packaging for a Changing World. By adopting circular ideas, we can create a more sustainable world for now and for future generations: keeping products and materials in use, designing out waste and pollution and regenerating natural systems.

Mike: Not every company is using sustainable packaging by now. Why is that in your opinion? What barriers do they have to adopting new solutions, and what would you say to help them make a change?

Paolo: Sustainable packaging is becoming a higher priority for both brands and consumers - more now than ever before. This is a cultural change, so this takes time. The key here is for businesses to clarify the value associated with a sustainable packaging.

A common barrier/misconception is the price. The reality is that if implemented correctly, sustainable packaging can support customers to increase sales, reduce costs, manage risk and, obviously, to become “Circular ready”. DS Smith can support the customers to make the circular economy a reality.

DS Smith

Mike: What new technological developments or breakthroughs are you most excited about in this space? And which ones have you adopted?

Paolo: We are bringing together a community of radical thinkers and encouraging revolutionary new ways of working in partnership.

To lead our industry, we’ve made bold sustainability commitments that require vision, innovation and significant investment right across our business.

We are transforming the way we work and we are creating entire new innovation teams and virtual platforms that facilitate a seamless exchange of information and ideas, from drawing board to boardroom, recycling depot to paper mill and back again.

We are investing in circular design: our circular design principles enables us to design out waste, keep valuable materials in use and make it easier for consumers to reuse and recycle packaging.

Our Circular Design Metrics give our customers a unique insight into how their packaging choices can directly reduce their impact on the environment and rate the circularity of their packaging.

Through our collaborative design process, customers will be able to compare the environmental performance of different solutions to create more circular packaging without compromising on performance.

Both the UK and Germany are set to play a major role in the mainstreaming of hydrogen as an energy carrier, whilst regional clusters are critical to achieving production and decarbonisation targets.

We became a Strategic Partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation because we wanted a partner to challenge us, help us drive design and innovation and further embed circular economy thinking into our business in new ways.

DS Smith

Mike: Are there any common misconceptions about sustainable packaging? How can companies work with customers and consumers to increase awareness around circular economy?

Paolo: As said before, a common misconception is that a sustainable packaging comes at a heavy price. The reality is that if implemented correctly, sustainable packaging can support customers to increase sales, reduce costs, manage risk and, obviously, to become “Circular ready”.

We are investing globally to lead the transition to the Circular Economy. Huge challenges, like replacing problem plastics, taking carbon out of supply chains and providing innovative recycling solutions, take total focus and significant investment.

With our circular packaging solutions, DS Smith can be the gateway of our customers to the Circular Economy. We can help clients by designing more sustainable packaging solutions, reaching their environmental goals, and meeting customers’ growing demands for more sustainable packaging.

We have over 700 designers and innovators, who think and create with Circular Design Principles. Principles we have developed in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Moreover, as part of our Now & Next Sustainability Strategy we have pledged to engage 5 million people on the Circular Economy and circular lifestyles by 2030. We will achieve this through our community programmes and the delivery of school lesson plans and outreach programmes, both face to face and through digital platforms.

Mike: Tell us about DS Smith investment in Italy including its sustainability goals. Why did you pick Italy, as a strategic country, and Castelfranco Emilia in the region of Emilia Romagna, as a strategic location, for your expansion plans?

Paolo: The investment follows significant growth of the company in Italy over the past ten years and supports DS Smith’s ambitious plans for further expansion in the region.

With the recyclable and sustainable paper-based packaging market expected to grow significantly as a result of increased adoption of e-commerce and continued expansion in traditional food and drink markets, the new site provides much needed capacity.

The new state of the art facility in Castelfranco Emilia is a milestone for DS Smith presence in Italy, strengthening its leadership on the market, creating opportunities for customers and employees, and contributing to the region's economy.

This plant and a whole sustainable system approach will give DS Smith the opportunity to make significant progress against our environmental, social and governance responsibilities. All the sustainable solutions will allow the plant in Castelfranco to reduce its carbon footprint by 764 CO2 tons per year compared to a traditional box plant.

With world top players such as DS Smith and an increasing demand for green solutions from food and beverage manufacturers and e-commerce platforms, the UK keeps leading the way in sustainable packaging research, development and state of the art technology.


If you are interested in the Italian market:

  • Ipack IMA is the flagship event in Italy for processing and packaging, next edition is 27-30 May 2025.
  • Cosmopack is the leading international event fully dedicated to cosmetics industry supply chain.


Find out more about how UK companies in Greater Manchester are reinventing the packaging of the future, and the new opportunities for collaboration with a strong and vibrant cluster of more than 700 companies.