For nearly everything we buy, packaging is essential. It protects items when transported and preserves them when they are stored or on shop shelves. Packaging is everywhere since it’s used to wrap or protect goods such as food, drinks, medicines and cosmetic products. All sorts of packaging are used in the shipping, storage and protection of products. They also provide sales and marketing benefits.
We need packaging. But we also need sustainable packaging. All around the world, consumers are becoming worried about the impact that packaging causes on the environment. For this reason, manufacturers are addressing the issue.
The world knows by now that plastic waste is one of the most urgent environmental issues of our time. On average, 40 per cent of plastic produced is packaging. The problem gets worse by the fact that nearly half of all plastic is used once. It’s useful for brief moments and then discarded to lie uselessly for centuries. Single-use plastic is a serious environmental hazard.
The plastic that escapes collection flows into our oceans—about nine million tons per year—most of it from developing countries that lack the facilities to handle it. As those countries grow, the problem might worsen even more as more packaged items are inevitably consumed. As many others in an increasingly convenience-obsessed world continue to purchase meal-kit, grocery services, and take-away food, which generate tremendous amounts of packaging.
Moreover, packaging accounts for about 5 per cent of the energy used in a food product’s life cycle, making it a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Packaging waste management faces a crisis due to two unresolved challenges:
Packaging recyclability – massive amounts of packaging created today cannot be recycled in most recycling facilities. This mainly occurs for multi-material packaging, which is still considered an unresolved challenge in recycling.
Packaging recycling and leakage – recycling rates for plastic packaging are relatively low. For example, in the United States, waste is usually managed with low leakage, but recovery rates for packaging and food-service plastics are about 28 per cent. Developing regions like Asia face enormous pressure because the rising packaging demand transcends global growth rates, and waste collection facilities are not ready for such a big scale.
Global leakage or poorly managed dumps of all plastic material flows is estimated to be around 19 per cent, and only 16 per cent of all plastic waste is processed to create new plastic products. In fact, most of the global plastic waste goes into incineration (25 per cent) and landfills (40 per cent), which means that these materials are forever lost as a resource, despite plastics’ potential to gain a new life.
The Managing Director ofthe Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners (a social impact investment fund that focuses on waste) claims that “We’re seeing a tremendous acceleration in the demand for packaging alternatives as the unintended consequences of plastics become more visible, both locally and globally”.
Since packaging will stay around until futuristic innovations come, we need to find solutions to drastically decrease the packaging impact on the planet. This is where sustainability comes into action.
Sustainability goes hand in hand with the famous mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”, and there are several strategies that manufacturers can adopt:
Reduce – they can use less raw materials during production; they can process products sustainably, so less energy is consumed during their life-cycle, for instance, on storage.
Reuse – they can design products so they can be reused, such as car parts packaging and supermarket “bags for life.”
Recycle – they can include recycled materials like paper or metal in production processes; they can design products to be recycled into other products, for instance, by making them out of paper.
More consumers are choosing sustainable packaging
A recent study shows that more consumers from North America, Asia, and Europe pay attention to a product’s environmental impact.
Among respondents, 89 per cent said they cared most about the quality of a product, while 84 per cent chose pricing as their first concern. While buyers are right to reflect on the financial impact, researchers said 49 per cent claimed health and safety, and 37 per cent claimed environmental impact as factors to consider before buying the product.
Moreover, 72 per cent of the respondents said they were actively purchasing more environmentally friendly items than they did five years ago. In comparison, 81 per cent said they expected to buy even more over the next five years.
Both the planet and corporations will benefit
Keeping loyal customers is critical to any corporation, but standard, never-changing packaging does not make the market share grow or make a product more competitive. Competition for all sorts of products increases when new features and innovations come into action.
For example, in the food industry, the producers that offer gluten-free, organic, non-GMO are gaining market share.
Likewise, offering a product with “Eco-Friendly Packaging” calls the attention of those concerned about sustainability – a constantly growing audience. The term “eco-friendly” can refer to packaging that has been created from recycled materials. Either way, sustainable packaging has been proven to be important to the growing number of environmentally-conscious consumers. Across all industries, environmentally-friendly packaging has increased sales and revenues and proven that consumers are willing to pay a little more for an item.
Sustainable packaging around the world
Innovations in sustainable packaging are becoming more critical than ever, and several corporations are keeping the pace. Here are ten of them that represent some of the latest trends, in no particular order:
- Rema 1000 Maskinrens own-brand dishwasher detergent bottle is now being made from recycled fishing nets made of plastic fibres, which is considered the most challenging type of plastic to recycle.
- The Italian brand Alba Cheese has changed to pallet stretch wrap that uses a proprietary organic additive from Biogone Plastics. This allows the film to biodegrade 20-times faster than traditional film in a landfill.
- The U.K. meal kit brand Gousto uses the Eco Chill box, a recyclable cardboard insulator, free of plastic. This box acts as an insulator and keeps its foods fresh through its delivery. According to the company, the Eco Chill packaging will also remove 82 tons of plastic from its boxes.
- Tide, the famous laundry detergent brand, switched from plastic bottles to boxes – called the Tide Eco-Box. It has around 60 per cent less plastic and uses 30 per cent less water than the previous plastic packaging.
- Adelaide-based wholesaler IG Fresh gathered forces with Australian independent grocer Drake’s Supermarkets and BioBag World Australia to bring an innovative solution – the compostable shrink wrap. This bioplastic is made from a plant-based resin, and they believe it could replace traditional single-use shrink wrap for fruits and vegetables.
- Pizza Round is a pizza packaging product that delivers a blend of operational, environmental, and client benefits. It is a “100% tree-free, plant-based, compostable pizza container for pizza take-out/delivery restaurants.” The sustainability aspect is in the product’s composition: it is 80 per cent sugarcane and 20 per cent bamboo, which are renewable raw materials.
- Some of IKEA’s packaging is now made of 100% biodegradable mushroom-based material. This type of material biodegrades in a matter of weeks, as opposed to polystyrene, which takes thousands of years.
- Ooho is an edible drink capsule made from Notpla (created from seaweed). The capsules can contain any type of liquid or drinks, dropping the need for plastic bottles and containers. It also doesn’t require land to grow, which decreases the negative impact on the environment caused by agriculture practices like fertilization. Running races like the Richmond Marathon provided Lucozade Sport the first opportunity to launch the runners’ capsule in September 2018.
- The beauty business creates a lot of plastic waste, which is something Alima Pure is committed to change. This brand is positioned as an eco-friendly cosmetics alternative and sells makeup in refillable components. When consumers run out of their products, they only need to buy a magnetic pan refill.
- Mondelēz International, a global snack company, is committed to making all its packaging recyclable by 2025. In line with its strategy to deliver zero-net waste packaging, the company launched its Cadbury Energy bar in New Zealand in December with new packaging made from 100% recyclable and sustainably sourced paper. It is the first time the company has used a paper material that doesn’t include laminates, foils or plastics for fully-sealed flow-wrap packaging.
As the world changes rapidly, we must adapt and reinvent better ways to solve issues we have caused ourselves. Sustainable packaging is important because it diminishes the ecological footprint in all the product’s life-cycle steps. It supports both producers and consumers to reduce their environmental impact.
JOANA RITA REIS
A guest writer to the USA Times and qualified Marine Biologist, Joana is a content writer for Naturpac. She focuses on writing about ecological and environemental change. She partners with Naturpac to help educate the supply chain and consumers on the power of change surrounding better packaging choices. She shares the Naturpac vision of a Better Earth.