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How the Packaging Industry is Saving the World

One of the biggest packaging industry trends nowadays involves environmental stewardship. Incorporating sustainability has become an expectation of consumers, and companies adopting a “green” philosophy are being rewarded. Both in terms of higher revenues and increased brand loyalty. Here’s what you need to know.

Protecting the environment is on everyone’s mind these days and packaging is no exception. According to a recent industry survey, 92% of packagers say sustainability is more important now than ever before. Consumers are leading the call for change and forcing companies to either step up or get left behind.

Yet, rather than seeing the movement as a burden, progressive organizations are embracing the challenge as an opportunity.

Green Looks Good on You

More than just meeting a demand, sustainability promotes lower operational costs and improves market share. Less packaging equals increased storage space. Lightweight materials are also easier to handle and cost less to ship than their bulky counterparts.

The ever-increasing growth of e-commerce means lighter, more durable materials are where the industry is heading.

The numbers are hard to ignore. Studies show that an active social media presence and strong environmental initiatives are directly related to a packaging company’s financial success. The best part is that eco-initiatives can be interwoven into your brand story as well.

Sustainability allows you to share with customers what you do and how you protect the environment at the same time. Which may be the determining factor that separates you from the competition.

The right message can also help with recruiting.

Many job seekers - especially millennials - regard environmental stewardship as a key element when choosing an employer. Speaking directly to them can become a virtual business card to help you find and land great packaging talent.  

The Eco-Advantage of Modern Packaging Trends

While the concept of secure, reliable packaging is timeless, the materials used are constantly evolving. And focusing on the environment is becoming a major part of the process. Here are a few trends in commercial packaging that are both profitable and help to protect earth’s natural resources.

Lightweighting

A buzzword term indicating less material used in creating the product. Especially popular in the plastics sector - reduced bulk means a smaller amount to recycle or possibly go to waste. Lighter materials also result in cheaper transportation costs and smaller storage needs.

Recycled Materials

Another emerging trend is the use of recycled materials in creating packaging. For example, recycled plastic can be utilized to create a new water bottle. Whereas before, such bottles were likely made from virgin plastic.

Other potential recycled packaging materials include glass, corrugated cartons, paperboard, and steel.

Post-consumer recycled material is another attractive option as well. Allowing consumers to recycle these products on their own (without the need for special handling) raises awareness and encourages eco-friendly behavior.

Biodegradable Plastics

One of the most intriguing advancements in sustainable packaging is the use of biodegradable plastics. Differing from their traditional petrochemical counterparts, these plastics come from natural sources such as wheat, potatoes, and corn.

Also referred to as bio-plastics, these packaging materials degrade faster in common landfill environments because of their organic bases.

Natural packaging is yet another derivative in this area which also decomposes quickly and remains compostable. Materials vary, but common sources include sugar cane, wood, and coconut husks.

Sustainable Packaging in Major Industries

While most every industry can benefit from eco-friendly packaging trends, a few stand out more than others. Not only because consumer demand is there, but the possibility to reduce costs and increase profitability as well.

Food is a perfect example.

Many traditional food packaging materials are not curbside recyclable and frequently get thrown away. Whereas newer PET plastics (100% recyclable) and plant-based materials are much more likely to be repurposed and stay out of landfills.

Sustainable options are also a great way for brands to boost their image. Studies show that younger generations are willing to spend more on products deemed eco-friendly. Companies addressing this need can vault their brands into “premium” status and thus charge more for their products.

Luxury Brands - a somewhat surprising entry in this fold.

Sustainability requests aren’t limited to everyday items, as luxury products are feeling the pinch as well. Previously, leading brands (in makeup, perfumes, high-end confections, etc.) assumed that customers were more concerned with a product’s look and feel rather than eco-friendliness. But that’s no longer true.

Consumers at all price points are concerned about the environment.

Adhering to their luxury persona, companies often use metal-infused glass and other exotic packaging materials to complement their products. While such elements are visually appealing, these hybrid materials are often much harder to recycle.

To combat the problem, leading brands are switching to pure metals, standard glass, and recyclable plastics. They’re also using less ink and colors to produce images and opting for simpler, less bulky materials in their packaging designs.

Thus, allowing them to keep a premium look and feel, but remain eco-friendly.

Environmental Packaging Trends in Action

Whether you’ve been on board since day one - or your organization is still designing its “green” roadmap - there are a few concepts you’ll want to keep in mind.

First off, packaging organizations should consider the entire lifecycle of their products vs. first use cases only. Because sustainability encompasses the total eco-impact of a material - not just whether it’s recyclable.

Consider the following:

Does the factory use renewable energy resources for construction?

Are the production processes “clean” and in line with environmental standards?

How energy-efficient are the shipping methods used for transport?

All of which comprise the total carbon footprint of a company’s operations.

Second, you must meet the customer halfway to encourage environmental stewardship. That means being willing to accept recycled items in bulk (to satisfy demand) and sourcing recycled materials locally whenever possible. These kinds of actions become self-fulfilling and encourage the loop to continue on.

Finally, ensure customers know what their options are. On-package education is one of the best methods to promote conservation and encourage customers to take action.

Education is also a great strategy to promote brand awareness and differentiate yourself from the crowd.

For example, several luxury brands have begun touting reusability as a product benefit. Designing attractive boxes, bags, and bottles that can be used again and again. Either for regifting, repurposing, or other creative applications.  

Conclusion

While the concept of sustainable packaging is only a few decades old, it’s clearly one that will continue to grow over time. Consumers are speaking with their wallets and forcing organizations to reevaluate their environmental policies and practices.  

Packaging firms that listen are increasing profitability and writing exciting new brand stories to share with the world.

Environmental packaging trends like organic, compostable, and biodegradable plastics are being embraced by consumers. While manufacturers and suppliers benefit from savings on materials, transportation, and storage costs.

Illustrating that an eco-friendly corporate attitude is truly a win-win proposition - for everyone involved.

How is your organization incorporating sustainability into your brand?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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