Sustainability does not stop at the product. Its packaging also carries an impact. And concerned customers are no longer keeping quiet. They often take to social media to name and shame companies that use single-use plastic and excess packaging. Meanwhile, brands are in search of sustainable packaging solutions that protect the product, communicate its details and also reduce the impact on the environment.
This need is more pressing than ever before to deal with the plastic pollution crisis that is being left behind by COVID-19 and its accompanying debris of single-use items such as masks, disposable sanitizer packs and shields.
We take a look at the key approaches being adopted globally by players across consumer categories, from fashion and beauty to food and drinks.
To reduce single-use plastic packaging, solution providers in Europe and North America are offering reusable packaging for fashion items sold online. Finnish company Repack creates packaging from recycled plastic that is reusable(up to 20 times) and is returnable by post. Once the customer sends back the empty bag, the team at RePack checks and cleans the bag for reuse. European brands like Weekday and Ganni are some of the brands that have opted for this service. In America, Boox offers a reusable shipping box that promises to be stronger than cardboard and is water-proof. They are designed to fold flat, making them easy to return.
On the other hand, beauty brands are looking to reuse the containers to tackle the packaging waste issue. American beauty and wellness brand Ace of Air is beginning to offer reusable packaging made of stainless steel and ceramic. After a customer has finished using the product, they can return the packaging that will be sanitized, refilled, and reused by the company.
Compostable packaging is one that is capable of breaking into natural elements in a compost environment(whether in an industrial facility or a domestic compost bin). The packaging is usually made from crops such as corn starch or potato and also fossil fuels. The skeptics argue that if the compostable packaging is recycled, it can contaminate all the other materials. Therefore, correct labeling of such packaging is important to ensure that the customer disposes of them correctly.
Sustainable fashion brands including Reformation and Stella McCartney have been packing their garments in compostable bags. New Zealand-based packaging supplier, No issue creates compostable mailers from corn starch as an alternative to plastic poly mailers. They have created a range of customized sustainable packaging for sustainable fashion and food SMEs.
Fashion brands are also getting innovative by using packaging made from recycled materials to offer eco-friendly
Fast-fashion brand Zara has been making efforts to make its packaging more sustainable. The brand sends its online orders in boxes made with recycled cardboard. Similarly, the shopping bags given to customers in their stores are made of 100% recycled paper. British luxury brand Burberry uses recycled coffee cups to create at least 40% of its packaging. The resulting product can be recycled in domestic recycling schemes. They also make their brand and care labels from recycled content.
Similar efforts are being made in other segments such as drinks. For example, Australian wine company Banrock station has launched bottles made from 100% recycled plastic that requires less energy to produce than a virgin plastic pack.
Players in the beauty industry, from legacy brands to newer upstarts, are leading on refillable packaging as a convenient and sustainable solution. Dove is trialling a refillable deodorant in the US market. Its design includes a stainless steel case that can be refilled with a plastic refill, which uses 54% less plastic than a normal Dove stick packaging. Likewise, American brand Beautycounter has launched a similar product called The Clean Deo and claims that opting for a refill instead of the regular deodorant will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 47 per cent and the amount of waste in landfills.
The food category is also incorporating refill options into its offering.
In 2019, UK based supermarket chain Waitrose launched a pilot for the refillable range, ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ to test customer demand for package-free shopping. Buoyed by the positive response, the company has integrated unpacked items into its regular aisles in select store locations. It will extend the Unpacked range to include 51 lines including essentials such as cereals, coffee and washing detergent.
Many key players in the food and drink industry have committed to transitioning their packaging from plastic to paper. Given the size of their businesses, such packaging innovations will have a long-standing impact on the quantum of plastic being removed from use. Nestle’s, Smarties will become the first global confectionery brand to switch to recyclable paper packaging. Such a shift is expected to remove approximately 250 million plastic packs of the brand that are sold globally every year.
Also, iconic brand Coca Cola is set to trial its first paper bottle in the summer of 2021 for its fruit drink, Adez, in Hungary. The bottle prototype has been made from an extra-strong paper shell containing a thin plastic liner. Even alcohol companies are in different stages of experimentation. Drinks company Diageo is giving Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky a makeover by rebottling it in paper-based packaging and will debut the product in 2021.
While the increasing availability of alternatives to traditional packaging is promising, companies must take adequate steps to educate or incentivise their customers for packaging disposal.