Sustainable Packaging Trends in the Consumer Electronics Industry

Frustration from the amount of packaging that comes with new electronic devices is common among consumers. Traditionally, each part has been individually wrapped within a seemingly impossible package to open. Now electronics companies are focusing more on the consumer experience when unboxing their new electronic device with sleek, easy to open, minimal packaging that still effectively protects the product. These consumers are excited for the latest innovation, be it device or packaging, and the industry is benefitting. In addition to consumer driven sustainable packaging, consumer electronics companies are being pushed by government and regulations. This is especially true in the United States and Europe where legislation is being considered for extended producer responsibility programs, restrictions on single-use packaging, and more. In order to make a move towards more sustainable packaging in the consumer electronics industry, it needs to encompass the whole package. That means not only making it recyclable, but evaluating sustainable alternatives for materials and designing for recyclability or recoverability.  

Trends in Sustainable Packaging for Consumer Electronics

Due to consumer demands and the need to become more sustainable to continue to survive, consumer electronics companies are getting more innovative with their packaging. Through alternative materials and designs, companies are taking action. 

Increasing the Use of Recycled Materials

Many companies are embracing recycling materials and repurposing them as packaging for our electronics. For example, Microsoft is pledging to increase recycled content across their entire portfolio by 2030. In the Microsoft Devices Sustainability Report FY20, they reported having 58% recycled content.

Switching to More Sustainable Materials

In addition to increasing recycled content in packaging, consumer electronics companies are switching the materials they use to package our phones, computers, and gaming consoles. A widely used material in the industry is molded pulp which can be made from bamboo, sugarcane, recycled paper, and more fibers. It is versatile, recyclable and can protect a wide range of products by being formed in many different shapes.  Examples of Sustainable Material Changes:
  • Since 2019, all Apple retail outlets use 100% fiber bags. 
  • In 2019 Samsung announced the replacement of their plastic holder trays with molded pulp.
By switching materials and/or increasing recycled content consumer electronics companies have the opportunity to lessen the environmental impact of their packaging.

Smarter Designs and Logistics

Not just materials, but the designs of packages are also changing. This means more streamlined packaging, less waste, and better use of resources in the manufacturing of these packages.  Apple eliminated the inclusion of earbuds as a way to reduce the amount of packaging sent to consumers with each new phone. The company reasoned that the majority of headphones were left unused. Reducing material use is an easy first step for companies on their sustainable packaging journey.  Smart designs include QR codes leading consumers to online manuals, reducing the environmental impact of adding a manual to every package. These QR codes can also provide the consumer with more information on recycling packaging and old electronics.  Packaging can now also act as a shipping crate, cutting packaging in half. Especially important for e-commerce scenarios where more than likely a consumer is not receiving an entire pallet of a product. Designing the packaging specific for the product can aid in waste reduction as well. Innovation of packaging designs and logistics are critical to a future with sustainable packaging.

Leaders in Sustainable Packaging

It stands to reason that the companies who are at the forefront of innovation in this industry are leading the way in incorporating sustainable packaging.
Carbon neutral since 2012, Microsoft has long strived to make their packaging meet global environmental requirements. They aim to eliminate single use packaging and have 100% certified sustainability forested fiber by 2021. Their lofty sustainable packaging goals continue, aiming for their packaging to be made from 100% recycled, renewable, or responsibly sourced content by 2030.  Microsoft ranks 3rd on Forbes World’s Most Reputable Companies for Corporate Responsibility in 2019. Their push for sustainability expands outside the company – they are involved in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and an original signatory member of the Australian Packaging Covenant. Microsoft provides an array of information about their sustainability initiatives on their website.
Also on board to battle climate change, Apple’s plastic use in its packaging has gone down 48 percent in recent years, by changing elements like the plastic tray in iPhone and iPad boxes to a molded fiber alternative. As recently as 2020, Apple announced adapters and earbuds would no longer be included with new iPhones, a move that will aid in decreasing Apple’s environmental footprint both down and up stream. A look at Apple’s website and Environmental Progress Report will show a long list of sustainability achievements and initiatives such as using 100% “responsibly sourced wood fiber” in all retail packaging. 
In 2019, Samsung Electronics announced that they will begin taking steps to replace plastic packaging materials with more sustainable alternatives such as paper. Largely aimed at reducing their plastic usage, Samsung’s cross-functional team tasked with the packaging revamp has plans for a plethora of packaging components.

Sustainable Packaging in the Consumer Electronics Industry

When you consider the impact these companies have on the environment and how much even a small change will make overall, it should be an inspiration for other companies to follow suit. Trayak has been helping leading brands of all sizes make data-driven sustainability decisions for over 10 years. If you would like to learn more about our tools and services please contact us.

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