The Current State of Sustainable Packaging

More and more companies are moving towards sustainable packaging. In part, because they want to do their part in becoming less wasteful but also because consumers demand it.  Consumers are fed up with having the onus on them to be responsible for the excessive and wasteful packaging their products come in. So, they speak with their wallets.  Consumers are refusing to buy products wrapped in too much packaging or packaging that is not made from renewable resources. Companies are listening.

The Current State of Sustainable Packaging

It’s always important to point out that when a company changes its packaging, it is a massive undertaking. They need to spend time researching, designing, and testing alternative packaging, often investing in different types of machines, all at their own expense. But, it’s an investment in their own business, because if they don’t change, consumers will simply choose a product that meets their higher standards. 

Top Trends in Sustainable Packaging

Companies are moving forward all the time when it comes to better packaging for their products. 
This is a trend that is taking off. It has been helped considerably since the COVID pandemic. With many restaurants, fast food establishments, and other companies that sell ready-made food items, they are encouraging people to reuse their takeaway containers. Reusable coffee cups are nothing new. Since 1985, Starbucks has rewarded their patrons who bring reusable tumblers or cups to their coffee shops by offering a discount on that cup of coffee. Other companies are following suit, companies are encouraging people to return their food containers, wine bottles, and companies that sell other types of liquid products offer a discount if you bring in your bottles to be refilled.  A reuse model saves the company and consumer time and money. Not to mention reducing the environmental impact caused by single-serve items. Modeling reuse is straightforward in EcoImpact-COMPASS. Users can easily compare single-use and reuse design scenarios to evaluate the environmental tradeoffs.
Compostable Packaging
This is a new way to reduce waste and allow mainly food-based packaging to be thrown into the compost bin with the food scraps. Packaging made out of food and other biopolymers and compostable materials is quickly becoming an alternative to disposable packaging. Everything from food wrappers, coffee pods, and cardboard containers are plastic-free and made to break down quickly. Beets, mushrooms, and sugar cane are already used widely for various products.  Compostable packaging options are still being developed, but as it stands, these containers usually break down within a few months in an industrial composting facility. It is important to consider the current lack of access to composting facilities for consumers when designing a compostable package. A company may have great intentions, but what happens when a consumer doesn’t have access to compositing at an industrial scale or home compost?
Plastic Free
Your average plastic carry bag from the grocery store takes hundreds of years to break down and yet its use lasts mere minutes. Reusing these, even several times, still doesn’t eliminate the waste they produce. Ridding ourselves of plastic packaging is a massive undertaking but companies are trying. Plastic bottles are being replaced by recyclable paper, cardboard, or glass.  Plastic straws and shopping bags are being banned throughout the world. With Directive (EU) 2019/904, The European Union banned single-use plastic products where sustainable, easily accessible, and affordable alternatives exist.  With companies not offering them anymore, and consumers finding alternatives, it’s still a long road to a plastic-free society. It will be hard to avoid plastic as many consumers still consider convenience over content.
Less Packaging
Many stores are skipping the pre-packaged foods and offering foods loose for consumers to pick themselves. Stores can order their products in bulk rather than individual packages.  For individual consumers, receiving a package at home that has layers and layers of all types of mixed packaging is also becoming unacceptable. If a company offers delivery or shipping, it’s easy to package these items using less and more sustainable materials to do so.  Considering the materials used and the amount of packaging is becoming more popular with companies as consumers are often the ones left to dispose of it. And consumers don’t want that left at their feet, they’ll take to social media and use their wallets to support companies making environmentally responsible choices. Reputation and ultimately sales are on the line for companies.
At home, in the office, or at the factory, so many more items can be recycled. Often as a result of companies designing their products with the end of life in mind, advancements in recycling infrastructure, increasing consumer access, and growing end markets. For example, Samsung Electronics was recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for diverting electronic waste from landfills to e-Stewards certified recyclers.  Designing products and packaging with end of life in mind requires knowledge of recycling infrastructure, consumer access, and end markets. However, companies do not need to be recycling specialists to use EcoImpact-COMPASS. The software provides pre-populated, region-specific end-of-life metrics making it easy to design with end of life in mind.

Sustainable Packaging

Changes are being made, by companies and consumers. With the worldwide web at their fingertips, consumers have a good understanding of the environmental impact of the products and packaging they consume.  Consumers are rewarding brands who take initiative and responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and packaging. Companies are complying and that is reassuring to see. 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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