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The Sustainable Packaging Era Gains Momentum

Thu May 11 00:00:00 EDT 2017

The 1980s marked the beginning of a trend: disposability. The decade gave birth to the disposable camera, the disposable contact lenses and marked an era of a true consumption culture. It was in the 1980s that America's number one hobby became shopping. "We were becoming more and more comfortable with products having shorter lifespans," writes Simon Sinek, in his book Leaders Eat Last. More innovations and shorter lifespans meant plenty of waste.  

Now fast forward to today and the level of individual consumption has done nothing but grow. But there have been other changes as well. As the level of consumption and waste has grown, the damage to the environmental and social landscape has become clearer. Awareness and social and environmental responsibility have increased.    

Sustainability is no longer just a trend. No longer a "nice-to-have." It has become a mandate. In fact, 75 percent of consumers would be "more likely to buy a product or service if the company is making an effort to be sustainable," according to a report by Solar City and Clean Edge.  

Sustainable Packaging in a World of Consumption 

In January 2017, thousands of international leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting to strategize on solutions for more than a dozen global initiatives. As part of this gathering, more than 40 packaging industry leaders endorsed a new global action plan detailing recommendations for plastics production, use and after-use. The group strives to increase reuse and recycling to 70 percent of all global plastic packaging, up from the current recycling rate of 14 percent.  

The New Plastics Economy: Catalyzing Action study reveals that 20 percent of plastic packaging could be re-used profitably. Another 50 percent could also be re-used profitably if improvements were made to packaging design and systems to manage the packaging after use.  

According to participants in a 2016 plastic packaging trend survey conducted by Dimensional Research, and sponsored by Jabil, packaging plays an important role in the overall brand experience, which is why it continues to be an area of major strategic investment. More than two-thirds of those surveyed identified bio-based materials and e-commerce packaging as major growth drivers in the industry. This sentiment was echoed in a 2017 e-commerce packaging trends survey, sponsored by Jabil Packaging Solutions, where more than 200 respondents agreed that the second highest level of innovation in the industry would come from opportunities in sustainable packaging.  

Making the Circular Economy Work with Sustainable Packaging 

The circular economy is one in which products, components and materials are guided by three primary principles:  

  • Preserve and enhance natural capital by choosing technologies and processes that use renewable or high-performing resources. 

  • Optimize resource yields to keep components and materials circulating in and contributing to the economy. 

  • Foster system effectiveness to reduce damage to human utility. 

This means that companies of all sizes can put the circular economy principles to work by rethinking the design and development of products and packaging. In fact, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Dell, H.J. Heinz, Keurig and Coca-Cola have all been leading the industry by demonstrating their long-time commitments to using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic in packaging. Now, many of them are taking a stand to eliminate all manufacturing waste from their global production sites.  

Introducing sustainable products and processes into every part of an organization's global supply chain required meticulous attention to how plastic packaging impacts the company's sustainability goals, in addition to product cost, performance and market value. In weighing packaging choices, brands should review the following areas to determine which produces the greatest overall product, customer and market value, while contributing to the circular economy: 

  • Efficient Design & Manufacturing 

  • Bio-Based Materials 

  • Degradability 

  • Refillability 

  • Recycled Materials 

  • Optimizing Materials for Recycling 

What to Expect in Sustainable Packaging 

With the packaging market estimated to be valued at $997 billion by 2020, according to Smithers Pira, sustainability will become a critical consideration for decision makers at all levels. Looking ahead, the packaging industry forecasts aggressive development in finding new ways to collect, sort and separate discarded plastics. Industry leaders are also calling for enhancements to bio-based material options that allow for a more cost-effective model for bringing sustainability to their packaging through use of beach plastic, oyster compounds and other materials that support the evolution of a better world for us all.  

The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies reports that one in five household consumers places environmentally responsible packaging among their top purchasing criteria. Eco-conscious consumers are stepping up, so there may come a time soon when buyers bring their own packaging to stores instead of it being part of the actual brand. Interesting ideas and solutions are emerging that will take sustainability innovation to the next level. 

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