Sustainable Packaging – What Are The Options?
Sustainable packaging is no longer a trend but a vital necessity. While its easier and less terrifying to bury your head in the sand (no pun intended), we must face the harsh reality that we are destroying our oceans and the ecolife that lives within them. Our oceans are currently filled with a staggering 5 trillion pieces of plastic. It is predicted by the National Geographic that there will more plastic than wildlife in our oceans by 2050.
Packaging has a major role to play in this. With an urgent global demand for sustainable solutions, consumer-packaging industries that move towards sustainable initiatives have a massive opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. It is a global crisis and we all need to take action.
What’s the good news? We all have the power to make a change. Packaging suppliers now have alternative options and the potential to make a serious change! It’s a major challenge but also a massive opportunity. Consumers are demanding sustainable alternatives and companies who can meet this demand will reap the benefits. It’s not just a way to improve the environment but a way to broadcast your company values. We’re going to explore some sustainable packaging alternatives so that we can all take a step towards a better future, together.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
How can packaging even be sustainable or eco friendly? Can it be sustainable just because it’s recyclable, because it was made with renewable resources, because it’s biodegradable? These are the questions everyone wants answers to. Greenwashing is everywhere (when companies promote sustainability without considering the actual impact) because brands want to be included in this new movement and cant distinguish what sounds good vs. what’s actually good. The term Sustainable Packaging is hard to define because it encompasses so many different elements. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines packaging that meets the below criteria;
- Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
- Meets market criteria for both performance and cost
- Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
- Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
- Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
- Is made from materials that are healthy throughout the life cycle
- Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
- Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles
Sustainable packaging should aim to avoid product wastage through packaging concepts tailored to each customer’s requirements, whilst ensuring the efficiency of the customer’s production process isn’t compromised through the use of new recyclable materials. Sustainable packaging comes in all shapes and sizes ranging from partly sustainable to an entire sustainable supply chain.
Why is Sustainable Packaging Needed?
Eco-friendly packaging design is no longer just a niche that appeals to environmentally conscious consumers. Today, it is considered a standard expectation. Now more than ever, companies’ long-term prosperity depends on not only financial performance, but on making a positive contribution to society. Eco-friendly packaging makes perfect sense as a way to encourage both benchmarks of business performance. This is not just the vague “green movement” that many businesses and companies have been trying to include in their mission and visions over the past few years. Companies now need to implement eco-friendly actions to reduce their carbon footprint, use more recycled materials and reuse more package components.
It was found in a recent cone communications survey that “87% of millennials would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues”. With the millennial generation growing to 80 million consumers, their preferences will greatly impact every industry. In order to capitalise on this it makes financial sense for companies to start taking moving towards more sustainable practices.
Consumers have made it clear that packaging waste is the top environmental issue they want brands to address, and it’s up to brands to find ways to use less packaging, source it responsibly, and make it easy to dispose of, compost, or recycle after use. Brands that do this can use these responsibility measures in their brand-building efforts. Brands that don’t do this stand to fall behind, particularly as additional new and sustainable packaging designs emerge.
Being sustainable isn’t only about pleasing your customer, its benefits your bottom line now and in the future. A recent study has found that companies with strong, sustainable packaging strategies perform better in nearly every market segment than do those that disregard sustainability, with 4% higher margins. It is predicted that government policies will come into effect in the next few years that will make sustainable packaging a legal requirement. Aligning your company’s packaging strategy now will make you more resilient, save you time and money in the future and keep you a step ahead of your competitors.
If you doubt the importance of implementing sustainable packaging lets have a look at how long it takes some of our everyday packaging materials to decompose – images courtesy of Trash Hero;
Compostable vs. Biodegradable
There is a major difference between compostable and biodegradable materials; they are not equally good for the environment.
‘Biodegradable’ refers to any material that can be broken down into its smallest possible components by living organisms without causing harm. However, it must be caveated that the degradation process could take dozens or even hundreds of years, which is almost as damaging for the environment as plastic. In order for biodegradable packaging to be deemed as a sustainable packaging solution it must break down in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.
The term ‘Compostable’ means it can break down into individual components; water, CO2, biomass and inorganic compounds. Composting leaves behind no visible residue. There’s two reasons compostable packaging isn’t standard today not all municipalities offer composting facilities and secondly compostable materials are more expensive than alternative sustainable options. As technology improves composting should expand.
So What Are The Sustainable Packaging Solutions?
Brands Creating Waves
Innovators worldwide are developing new packaging solutions driven by sustainability with some of these most definitely acting as catalysts for what’s to come in the future. Some brands have already taken major steps in moving toward a sustainable packaging future. It can be a tricky balance trying to get the compromise right between effective packaging and being ecologically sustainable but these brands have nailed it.
Ooho is an edible and biodegradable alternative to plastic. Its created from Notpla, which is a material comprised of seaweed and plants which is one of nature’s most renewable resource. It doesn’t need fresh water or fertiliser and grows up to one meter per day. It biodegrades in 4-6 weeks or alternatively it can be eaten making it ideal for on the go with absolutely no waste! It can also be composted with your compost and food waste.
Ooho recently helped with removing single use plastic from the London Marathon by providing Lucozade sport in their Oohos, meaning runners could take one as they were running and not worry about waste at all! They are also a great alternative at festivals or bars as they can hold alcohol, cocktails or juices. Not only that but they can also replace plastic sauce sachets and pots. Imagine all the plastic that could be saved from takeaways, bars, festivals and marathons. The opportunities are endless! They are also working on nets, heat sealable films and sachets. This technology is definitely here to stay and is promising for the future of sustainable packaging.
Waitrose, a UK based chain of British supermarkets are testing a new initiative aimed at reducing packaging, Waitrose Unpacked. They are currently undergoing testing in their Oxford Botley Road store where they are observing how their customers would be prepared to shop differently in the future by incorporating reusing and refilling stations. They have 160 products of loose fruit and veg, and 46 products for their customers to refill – from pasta and grains to coffee, frozen fruit, beer, wine and cleaning products. They’re encouraging customers to bring their reusable bags and containers, or borrow them from the store so together the can cut packaging waste. They give the option to bring their own containers to their food containers.
Waitrose have also pledged to make all its own-brand packaging recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2023, and will remove all black plastic from its own brands by the end of this year.
One of the definitions of sustainable packaging is designing product packaging with the main purpose of doing as little harm to the environment as possible. Not all sustainable alternatives have to be groundbreaking innovations. H&M have designed these simple but effective 80% recycled paper bags. These bags then convert to hangers when you get home, avoiding excessive plastic usage. H&M are aware that their young target customers care about the environment and are opting for brands that have sustainable solutions available.
Pangea organics are a cosmetics company that create 100% plant based beauty products. Pangea have created a way of turning their packaging into trees. They use recycled newspaper and water to make molded fiber boxes, adding organic tree seeds before the boxes are molded. Once the customer is finished with the packaging they can soak the box in water for 24 hours and plant in in soil. Plantable packaging – genius.
Unilever have been trialing wrapper-less ice creams to help cut down on single sue plastic. Multipacks of Solero’s will be sold in a reusable cardboard box with compartments, preventing the need for individual wrappers. The box is made from specifically designed polyethylene-coated cardboard making it recyclable.
How Can you Make your Supply Chain and Packaging More Sustainable?
Using building blocks such as: reduced material consumption, recyclable solutions, renewable based materials, new technologies and business models are all ways in which you can work towards making your entire supply chain sustainable and reduce your environmental impact.
Energy efficiency and waste production – You can aim to reduce energy consumption in your production process. You could do this by switching to LED lighting and look into investing into energy efficient technologies.
Material thickness reduction – Aim to select a combination of materials that provide the best possible packaging whilst minimizing its environmental impact.
Recyclable packaging – Many producers choose recyclable packaging as their sustainable packaging option of choice because it’s easy to understand, relatively inexpensive to produce, and consumes less energy throughout its lifecycle than other options.
The answer to which ‘sustainable packaging option is best’ is completely dependent on what it will be used for, who will be using it and where your consumer market is located. As consumers understanding of sustainability continues to evolve, the companies that evolve with this will come out on top. All of the big brands are walking the path of sustainability. When will you?
We hope that this article gave you some inspiration for aligning your packaging strategy to become more eco friendly, if you’re feeling inspired, motivated or curious and want some help, contact us for a chat. The future is green – so plan accordingly!
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