The “eco” trend in packaging is no longer a fad. Green packaging should now be understood as an integral part of the industry, and a way for companies in the packaging sector to demonstrate that values such as transparency, respect for the environment and sustainability are as important as profitability and reputation.
Companies involved in the value chain need to understand the trade-offs when considering carbon footprint, recyclability, and waste reduction. For brand owners and retailers, the focus on packaging has been primarily around circularity-recyclability and recycling content, but there is growing interest in reducing carbon footprints and eliminating waste leakage.
What role does packaging play in the value chain? There are three main elements to focus on: eliminating the pollution of the environment with packaging materials, increasing packaging recyclability and the use of recycled content, and reducing the carbon footprint of packaging. The challenge and opportunity for packaging innovators is to give packaging a better environmental footprint without compromising on functionality.
Eco-Design and the Circular Economy
When thinking about strategies to produce more sustainable packaging products, it is important to consider two concepts: circular economy and eco-design.
The circular economy is a model of production and consumption in which companies need to share, rent, reuse, renovate and recycle packaging and other waste. The objective is to lengthen the lifecycle of the products and to be more sustainable.
On the other hand, eco-design is the process of incorporating environmental criteria from the outset, at the definition and development phase of a product. An ecological packaging design should minimise the amount of material necessary to fulfil its function of protection, transport, storage, etc. Although all of the materials used will be sustainable, using smaller quantities of these materials will reduce the environmental impact of manufacture and transport.
There is a current market trend towards more returnable/refillable containers and packaging in areas such as personal care and food service. It is important to consider the full life-cycle impact as companies make choices regarding which materials to use to advance their carbon footprint and broader sustainability goals.
Sustainability in Packaging is a megatrend shaping the packaging industry, with consumers increasingly concerned about the environment and the impact of packaging pollution. Globally speaking, a majority of consumers are concerned about packaging sustainability and express a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging, so they are increasingly likely to focus on products that are good for themselves and the environment.
The recycling of containers and packaging has become a priority for consumers and companies. In the current context, increased online sales of food and industrial products inevitably mean an increase in packaging, and this needs to be reduced. Therefore, companies must implement circular economy processes and understand the importance of recycling packaging for efficiency and sustainability.
Sustainability in packaging is a key industry-shaping trend for the whole packaging value chain, but it is also a rapidly evolving area. Customers and consumers remain confused about what sustainable packaging means; while they are concerned about excessive plastic waste, they may not be aware that plastic packaging can be made with recycled material, or that most plastic packaging can be designed to be recycled or composted at the end. It is important to understand that the lowest-carbon material does not always have the highest recyclability or make the best use of recycled content.
Waste management regulations
In response, new stricter sustainability regulations are emerging on multiple fronts, with increasing frequency. Packaging that is not truly sustainable has no future.
Pressure to reduce packaging waste has increased dramatically, and packaging waste management is subject to an increasing number of regulatory measures worldwide. In recent years, we have seen a rapid increase in sustainable packaging regulations that focus on waste management. More advanced countries have set up infrastructure to support lasting changes in design, recyclability, and recycled content, but for the moment, financial penalties represent the predominant regulatory vehicle for stimulating sustainability in the packaging industry.
Consumer and customer education
Society faces a fundamental environmental challenge: maintaining well-being and consumption, while at the same time protecting and conserving resources. Recycling is an important strategy; it is necessary to recycle more and recycle better.
The medium-term objective of the packaging sector is to make 100% of packaging recyclable. However, the customer also needs to step up and take responsibility; currently, only 32% of packaging is properly recycled.
Companies are working to improve this by launching waste-management initiatives which will facilitate the sorting and separating that is necessary to make the recycling process more efficient. For example, it is possible to create a digital watermark that identifies the components of packaging and then helps to direct them to the right waste-management stream at end-of-life.
More and more companies are committed to sustainability as a production strategy: it enables them to be more efficient, to consume fewer resources and to demonstrate their values to customers. While it is true that the law mandates and regulates sustainability initiatives, a company’s commitment to investing in innovation is key to a competitive ecological transition.