One thing that hasn’t changed in 2021 is the global awareness that environmental sustainability is important and that we all need to do our part to keep our planet green. The packaging industry has a higher level of responsibility due to the amount of materials and supplies that are a product of the industry. It’s clear that packaging companies are necessary – in fact, they were deemed essential businesses during Covid-19 shut downs. And it’s also clear that we need packaging supplies to make our world go ’round.
At the same time, we know that we need to do better to ensure we are providing materials and methods that are safe for the planet. Fortunately the packaging industry and those companies that rely on packaging have been dedicated to this mission for the last decade. The result of this has been the advent of new materials, new methods, and big commitments from companies to do better.
The first thing that people think of when they think about “sustainable packaging” is usually the materials involved. Sustainable materials are becoming more commonplace and suppliers are actively seeking materials that are deemed recyclable or reusable. This means using materials that are deemed safe and non-toxic for humans and the environment. Recycled content is becoming more and more available for different applications.
Green Business Bureau lists 8 eco-friendly packaging alternatives that companies are turning to:
- Biodegradable packaging peanuts
- Corrugated bubble wrap
- Air pillows made of recycled materials
- Cornstarch packaging
- Mushroom packaging
- Seaweed packaging
- Recycled cardboard and paper
- Eco-friendly plastic and recycled plastics
- Organic fiber
While the materials are important, the methods are perhaps more important. We can’t get around using materials. No matter what we do we’re going to need boxes, dunnage, tape, envelopes, etc. to get products around the world. This is why the method in which packaging is handled is so important. Here are some of the top considerations when it comes to sustainable methods in packaging:
- Educating consumers – consumers want to recycle but they need it to be easy; simply telling consumers how to go about recycling your materials makes a word of difference
- Damages – damages have a heavy impact on the environment; if a product arrives damaged all of the materials, transportation costs, etc. go to waste. This waste has a huge impact on environmental damage
- Reusable – being able to re-use materials makes all of the efforts that went into the product (from the transportation costs to the material costs) run that much further
- Returns – returns also have an impact due to the wasted materials; companies have created clever ways of avoiding returns by having more interactive ways of trying products and learning everything you need to know about them before you buy
- Factory efficiency – smart warehouses are becoming the way of the future; these warehouses are focused on limiting emissions and ensuring that they are using the most green ways of doing business
- Material design – sustainable packaging means going beyond the materials themselves and considering how much product you are using and how you are configuring the package; too much void fill is a waste and too little leads to damage
- Energy – the use of clean energy or renewable energy is a top consideration when we think of being sustainable
- Water – we have a global water shortage that will only get worse if we don’t make changes. It takes a lot of water to produce packaging materials and run a distribution center. Fortunately engineers are working on ways to use less water in the packaging process
Why should you care?
As a business owner it’s important to care about sustainability. Here is some data to help this make sense:
- Nearly half of consumers say the pandemic has made them more concerned about the environment with 11% saying they have shifted their purchases based on environmental claims within the past year (Fooddive)
- In 2019, 71% took that into consideration at least occasionally. On March 6 of this year, 78% felt that way. (Fooddive)
- About 78% of those surveyed said companies could be doing more to clearly explain the environmental impacts of their products. But fewer consumers think high prices are the biggest barrier to buying items with environmental claims, with the number decreasing 4 percentage points since last year, to 49%. (Fooddive)
- Environmentally-friendly production leads: Globally, consumers rank it as the sustainability feature with the biggest impact on determining their brand choices. (Conference Board)
- Key report findings also include a majority of consumers who identify as environmentally aware, with more than two out of three consumers citing environmentally friendly, recyclable packaging as important. And of the 74 percent who said they would pay more for sustainable packaging, nearly one-fourth are willing to pay for an increased cost of 10 percent or more. (Recycling Magazine)