Sustainable Packaging for Modern Businesses: Impact & Future Trends
The world is getting more and more environmentally conscious and, as a result, controversy around product packaging continues to grow. On the one hand, we need to stop packaging waste from choking our planet to death. On the other hand, we can’t do without packaging. We need to ship and store products for human use, and packaging is essential for keeping these products safe from damage, spoilage, or contamination. We are in a conundrum. Thankfully, we now have tried and tested sustainable packaging solutions that harm the environment significantly less than traditional packaging.
What Is Sustainable Packaging?
Sustainable packaging is mostly similar to traditional packaging in terms of protecting products from damage, spoilage, or contamination during storage and transportation. However, it differs from traditional packaging in that it decomposes fully into beneficial organic compost. Common sustainable options in the market today are PET/HDPE plastic, paper, and cardboard, all of which are recyclable and biodegradable.
The Environmental Impact Of Packaging Choices
Excessive packaging of products over the decades has had massive negative effects on the environment. The manufacturing and disposal of most packaging materials produce deadly greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon monoxide gas. The increasing plastic waste in our oceans, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies magnifies the ecological impact of packaging on the planet. Plastic waste in rivers and lakes kills aquatic animals and poisons the water humans use.
Three unresolved challenges make packaging harmful to the environment:
- Recyclability challenges– Most plastic packaging solutions that we have used for decades cannot be recycled. Additionally, many consumers in the past didn’t appreciate the need to reuse or repurpose plastic packaging. That has made and continues to make packaging waste management almost impossible.
- Packaging waste leakage– The demand for packaging in the world is so high that sustainable packaging solutions are struggling to keep up. Waste collection facilities also struggle to keep up with the big-scale production of packaging waste. Plastic waste leakage happens due to dumps and being poorly managed. Today, only about 16% of the packaging waste in the USA gets recycled/repurposed. The rest ends up in landfills, where it then dumps toxic waste sludge into our waters.
- Raw material sourcing and manufacturing- The extraction process of the resources needed for the production of plastic packaging emits greenhouse gases harmful to our air. The process also produces particulates and other toxic waste that end up in rivers and lakes. The factories that manufacture these materials also produce harmful gases and chemicals that contribute heavily to environmental degradation.
Since we cannot do away with packaging, the practical solution right now is to minimize packaging waste through these three approaches:
- Reduce: Use as minimal packaging as possible to reduce the rate at which the world demands the extraction and manufacturing of new plastic.
- Reuse: Instead of single-use packaging, brands need to use packaging that consumers can repurpose and reuse as opposed to discarding it to landfills.
- Recycle: Packaging materials that can be recycled into other products enhance packaging waste management.
The Importance Of Sustainable Packaging
The reason many brands still insist on plastic and other unsustainable packaging options is cost. Sustainable packaging is not very economical in the beginning. It’s also not very convenient, considering that options such as paper can’t be as sturdy or strong as plastic. Why, then should anyone implement sustainable packaging?
- Energy and raw material conservation: Using recycled packaging materials means reducing the stress we have put on natural resources. It also means reduced demand for energy needed for manufacturing. This enhances the conservation of energy and raw materials for the next generation.
- More consumers are choosing sustainable packaging: Between 37-40% of modern consumers consider a product’s environmental impact when making purchase decisions. By making sustainable packaging your brand’s selling point, you’ll build a loyal customer base and gain a competitive edge over competitors.
- Social responsibility: If not for anything else, brands have a social obligation to safeguard human health and safety. The production of unsustainable packaging (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate) causes tons of health issues, including kidney failure, skin and eye irritation, severe headaches, and respiratory ailments.
Current Trends In Eco-Conscious Packaging Solutions
Here are the major trends in sustainable packaging that businesses need to keep tabs on:
i. Designing for reusability: This is particularly prevalent in beauty, personal care, and beverage markets. Eco-conscious consumers are willing to pay premium prices for reusable packaging because it helps them alleviate the guilt of polluting the planet through packaging waste. Reusable packaging materials include stainless steel and glass.
ii. Paper packaging: Replacing plastics with paper (e.g. paper cups and bags) minimizes packaging's carbon footprint. Nutraceutical packaging in the nutraceutical industry, for example, has succeeded in creating paper packaging that’s both sturdy and functional. Paper packaging for pills, capsules, and health and wellness products is sleek, stylish, and customizable. Furthermore, paper allows for more extensive printing and decoration than plastic, which means more branding possibilities.
iii. Packaging waste reduction trends: Waste reduction strategies for modern businesses include
- Linerless labels.
- Downsizing the size and volume of packages.
- Lightweight packages that require minimal raw materials to produce.
iv. Minimalism: This involves the use of clean, simplistic, and minimalist design in packaging, stripping away unnecessary packaging elements.
v. Sustainable labeling: Eco-friendly packaging extends to the use of inks and labels that are free from harmful chemicals and that are biodegradable.
vi. Bioplastics: Unlike fossil-fuel-based plastics, bioplastics are biodegradable and sustainable.
Brands have to be conscious of the need for sustainable packaging practices if they’re to remain competitive in 2024 and beyond. With the ongoing surge in eco-friendly packaging solutions, brands have no excuse for sticking to traditional, unsustainable packaging options. Start your journey towards an environmentally responsible future.