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Costs calendar    Sep 08, 2022

Sustainable Packaging: trends, examples, and strategies to follow

What is sustainable packaging? Check out the possibilities of replacing plastic with eco packaging with solutions.

Eco friendly and sustainable packaging seem to be recently a trend put on everyone's lips: global warming and climate change visible to the naked eye have made both companies and consumers seem to recognize the need to take care of the environment, also in the context of choosing biodegradable and recyclable materials from which the packaging of ordered goods is made.

But what is the market reality? Are we dealing exclusively with the so-called greenwashing, that is, marketing talk about eco-activities without taking real actions, or can we switch to environmentally friendly packaging right now?

We check it out for you in today's post!

Packaging Trends: going green while winning loyal buyers

According to the United Nations, by 2050 the world population will reach 9.6 billion people. In practice, according to the estimates cited by the UN, this means one thing - to survive at the present level of our lifestyle, we would need... 3 planets.

And we only have one. The continuous work and development of packaging sustainability is therefore not only our duty but also a (sad in this context) necessity.

The key to success on the road to a green-friendly future ensuring a dignified survival is to focus on the level approaches system and focus on the value chain.

One thing in the context of environmentally friendly packaging is the approach of the FMCG industry itself, which takes bold steps towards the (hopefully not only marketing) need to take care of the planet. Secondly, appropriate steps on packaging sustainability maintenance and development are also carried out by regulatory authorities within individual countries and communities such as e.g. European Union or dedicated legal authorities and foundations, like eg. Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

McKinsey research: approaches towards packaging waste across different countries.

The third side of this coin is the need of the consumers themselves - who, as the research conducted by Trivium Packaging shows, are ready to pay more for goods packaged in an eco-friendly way (83% of respondents in 2021; this is a significant increase compared to the previous year, in which such a desire was declared by only 70% of the survey participants). In turn, as many as 67% of respondents focus on buying products packed in recycled materials, which also seems to be a sensible direction which the market is heading. Packaging sustainabilty consumer trends from year to year are becoming more and more visible and sophisticated, putting much more emphasis on real e-commerce activities.

Packaging recycling is not the only (although at first glance the most obvious) thing that can be done in terms of going green in terms of packaging producers and the retailers that use them.

Other sustainable activities undertaken, among others, by the FMCG industry are the following 3 pillars of activity (McKinsey research):

  • emphasizing full recyclability and a significantly higher degree of recycled content (60% percent of commitments);

  • reduction of the total plastic consumption (25%) - complete elimination of packaging on some types of products, reduction of the weight of packaging by an average of 35%, elimination of peripheries; eg. single-use plastic bags.

  • innovation and promotion of green activities (14%) - so-called environmental advocacy.

Sustainable and Recyclable Packaging: what it is?

But what exactly is sustainable packaging? The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) defines it as a type of packaging that meets at least some of the following 8 criteria:

  • is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle.

  • must be safe and healthy for users throughout their lifecycle;

  • must meet predetermined performance and costs criteria;

  • are produced, stored, and transported using renewable energy;

  • are made of renewable or recycled materials;

  • are produced using the so-called clean production technologies;

  • are designed to meet the requirements of material and energy optimization;

  • can be recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles.

Perhaps it seems to you that the implementation of this type of rules looks costly - remember, however, that it is followed not only by the improvement of the situation of our planet but also by measurable benefits for the company, such as building brand awareness, facilitating consolidated storage and lowering shipping costs (thanks to smaller packages - reducing their size and using less unnecessary material also has a beneficial effect on the environment).

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Eco Packaging: what packaging materials and strategies can we choose from?

Sustainable packaging solutions are not always just about material usage. Green action strategies sometimes go far behind the recycling issue itself.

Check for yourself what else you can do:

  1. educate clients - awareness of the situation is the basis of any action and drive for change. Make customers aware of the problem of sustainability. Inform widely about the need to recycle packaging, write about eco-materials from which your packaging is made. Add any appropriate iconography. Communicate on various packaging pieces, such as the branded mailing bag or eco mailer box, that they have been made from sustainable or raw material. The more you show them through green communicates, the more likely buyers will learn them by heart and treat them with due attention.

  2. send smaller packages - the fewer materials you use when packing, the better both for the environment and for your business. Firstly, you'll pay less for smaller parcels; but also for their shipping. Furthermore, smaller cartons also mean less filler material. Spend some time trying to arrange the products sold in the cartons differently and more efficiently. The best example of this situation will be the case of a furniture shipment - disassembled and properly stacked furnishings' parts will certainly allow you to save some packing space.

  3. avoid over-packaging throughout the supply chain - logistics industry when it comes to product packaging, in most cases, has its own rules: packaged products are packed in a larger force, and these are also packed together in larger packs, etc. Referring to the famous film by Christopher Nolan, we're dealing with a real "inception of packaging". Often ready-for-transport containers are a kind of multi-level box looking like matryoshka dolls. One thing is that multiple packages are used throughout this entire supply chain; secondly - is that it generates a huge amount of waste. However, it can be worked on in cooperation with suppliers and vendors. Just take a few simple steps:

  • forecast demand wisely, thanks to which you will avoid overproduction or over-ordering of unnecessary products. Modern technology that automates the management of the supply and demand process will help you in dealing with this process;

  • consolidate the shipments, which will reduce the number of materials necessary for their packaging;

  • talk to your supply chain partners about the role of sustainability and emphasize in your contacts how important this issue is to your company and clients.

    4. check your logistic partners' sustainable practices - before you sign the final contract with your partners, do a little research. Ask them about production processes and good eco-practices. Do they use sustainable materials in their work? How do they try to minimize their carbon and ecological footprint? Take a look at their equipment, warehouses, and facilities, thanks to which you will get the full picture of the situation and you can make a fully informed decision about (eco) cooperation.

    5. think about the sustainable design implementation - another way to take for recycling is to dye the so-called sustainable design. This new packaging solution trend is focused on redesigning packaging - and to package products in such a way as to harm the environment as little as possible - not only by using raw materials or recycled materials. Moreover, your packaging can be designed in such a way that, after the protective function it performed in the transport process, it can be used by consumers for other purposes in its intended use. By using sustainable design, you will not only help the environment - but also gain in the eyes of young buyers by creating an image of the fresh and disruptive brand.

    An example of sustainable design invented by H&M: packaging that can be converted into a hanger after use.

    6. execute returnable/reusable packaging policy - many of the containers used in the shipping process have been returnable or reusable for many years so far. Such a process allows for a reduction in costs and environmental carbon footprint. Remember, however, that this principle can be implemented not only in the context of huge packaging containers, e.g. those used in shipping parts of the automotive industry. Moreover, if, instead of suggesting and asking your partners to use returnable packaging, you start to require it by implementing an appropriate policy, such actions will surely bring tangible results.

    7. take care of packaging issues as well - sustainable packaging solutions are of course also a matter of kind of used packaging material. The good news is that you have a lot to choose from in this regard. Find out what eco-friendly packaging solutions are worth considering further:

a. recyclable materials - do you want to extend the life of previously used stuff? The recycled packaging materials idea is perfect for you. Cardboard boxes are most frequently recycled; this type of paper pulp is relatively easy to process, shape and cut. Another advantage - recycled and recyclable cardboard packaging is extremely light. Other materials that can be reused in another form are containers and envelopes made of ... previously used plastic materials. It is also a great way to manage unnecessary plastic.

b. edible packaging - staying with the topic of packaging from biological sources, this type of material comes from the same family. These are packaging used primarily by retailers who trade food and drinks - edible packaging is, therefore, a great addition to the products they offer.

c. plantable packaging solutions - as the name suggests, plant based packaging solutions are materials that can be planted and grown; in other words - that is packaging made of biological sources. It sounds like a curiosity for now and is still considering in terms of interesting packaging innovations, but the industry is using more and more materials made of ... mushrooms, water-rinds, corn, and food waste. The raw materials production process is really easy and relatively quick to "produce". Moreover, it is cost-effective and leaves almost no significant carbon footprint.

Chosen of those those packaging raw materials have seeds that end-users of the product can plant after using the packaging in their gardens. In most cases, this type of packaging is used to wrap small and light items, such as jewelry. They are also often used as fillers or product wraps.

Some producers also rightly use them as kind of sustainable food packaging (especially popular on asian market). Answer the question for yourself - is it better to pack bananas in a plastic bag or in a properly dried banana leaf...?

Vegetables and fruit covered in banana leaves instead of plastic packaging.d. compostable packaging and biodegradable plastic alternatives - these are materials that can be composted at home or on a larger scale in a commercial manner. Most often they are made of plant polymers, which decompose easily in the composit within 90 days in commercial conditions, or in 180 days at home.

As you can see, industry is still working on sustainable packaging solutions developing. Sustainable packaging materials are used more and more often: not only in terms in choosing cardboard packaging, eco mailer boxes etc., but also in the context of moving away from the sea of plastic that floods us. Instead, if necessary, companies try to rely on bio based plastics. Moreover, it is a systemic approach - countries banning plastic bags decide to implement such activities at the level of legal regulations to force producers to behave in an appropriate manner.

End of the Plastic Packaging Era

The old-fashioned packaging industry is slowly becoming a thing of the past. The era of the new packaging is coming - based on eco-conscious packaging and sustainable package design become a new reality.

Is there one mythical ideal solution ideal from the point of view of the environment, each company, and the needs of literally each customer? Unfortunately not. However, I believe that, as an industry, we can jointly work out solutions that will help to take care of our planet, and in the long term - also develop the e-commerce business.

Let's face it: packaging products nowadays is a challenge that we have to face. However, this is not an impossible task - eco packaging can fulfill consumer demands, be kind of elegant packaging, and, at the same time, prevent packaging waste. Moreover, green packaging design, as shown by research on shopping consumer behaviour, is a great idea to increase brand loyalty.

So you see: sustainable product packaging is a true win-win solution, no difference whether you decide to use compostable packaging, reusable packaging solutions or eco friendly packaging materials at the end of the day.

The most important punch line of this text, however, is one: further packaging sustainability developing. After all, implementing eco packaging, including compostable packaging, kraft mailer boxes or corrugated cardboard, and choosing right sustainable packaging solution is a small step for companies - and really huge for the planet and for humanity.

Head of Marketing at Linker Cloud who gained experience in the insurance and tech industry. She also has a marketing agency perspective.

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