Demand for sustainable packaging
Over the years, the packaging industry has had some bad press in regard to environmental issues. Brands all over the world were rife in using non-recyclable materials, single-use plastic – and excessive amounts of it. When David Attenborough’s Blue Planet emerged and highlighted the harm plastic and packaging were doing to marine life, consumer attitudes changed dramatically.
In fact, consumers have really driven the need for sustainability in recent years. In January 2020, IBM released a study on global consumer trends revealing that brand purpose now surpasses cost and convenience as priorities for shoppers. The study also found that 70% of these shoppers pay an added premium of 35% more per upfront cost for sustainable purchases, such as recycled or eco-friendly goods.
The point is that consumers want to do good by the planet. They recognise that something needs to be done, and they want brands to offer that sustainable option when it comes to products and packaging so that consumers can make the right decision when picking products off the shelves.
This consumer awakening is arguably one of the reasons that many more brands have been carefully considering their environmental impact. Taking care of the earth has never been more important and in today’s climate, sustainable packaging can give you the edge over your competition.
This has left many brands who hadn’t yet considered their impact with a challenge – how to make their packaging design more sustainable?
Why sustainable packaging design is important
Sustainable packaging design is important because it reduces a product’s environmental footprint, which in turn helps the producer and the consumer reduce theirs. If you’ve read this far into the article, you probably already have a good idea of why this is important. The impact of humankind on the natural world is no joke. Sustainable packaging design helps us take steps in the right direction.
Think about it – the packaging industry is pretty huge. It employs around five million people worldwide and generates an annual turnover of in excess of 400 billion dollars. With this in mind, the potential for packaging to have a large and negative impact on our planet is pretty substantial. And in turn, so too is the responsibility to ensure that packaging is as sustainable as possible.
Sustainable packaging in a circular economy
One huge talking point around the sustainable packaging conversation is the circular economy. This has become increasingly influential in the packaging industry as brands strive to make their products more sustainable. But what does a circular economy actually mean?
A circular economy is about keeping resources in use for as long as possible. It refers to a world in which business and consumers alike work to get the maximum value from resources whilst we can, recovering and regenerating them into new products and materials at the end of their life.
With the world’s population expected to peak at 10 billion in 2050, demand for raw materials is ever-rising. However, the supply is not sufficient to meet this demand. Not only this but extracting and using these raw materials has a major impact on the environment. The extraction can cause soil degradation, water shortages, biodiversity loss, damage to ecosystem functions and global warming exacerbation.
With this in mind, companies globally are being encouraged to reconsider the way they make things and create products that are made to be made again. This involves moving towards sustainable materials and ensuring that whatever is produced stays in the economy and never becomes waste or pollution.
The challenge for businesses is not only to design packaging that is in line with a circular economy and meets sustainability objectives but also that looks great and performs well – all whilst fitting within budgetary reach of manufacturers, distributors and consumers.
What is the most sustainable packaging material?
With many different variables to take into consideration, it’s difficult to pinpoint one packaging material that is more sustainable than another. Plus, it’s often hard to understand what exactly makes a material sustainable. Let’s look at a few of the most common packaging materials.
Despite its bad press, plastic can actually be one of the most sustainable packaging options when used in a closed-loop returnable packaging system. Plastic is strong, lightweight, transparent and recyclable. So, why is plastic deemed as such a villain in sustainability conversation?
The problem is virgin plastics. Virgin plastics cannot be recycled and these are the plastics that are the cheapest for brands to use. Recycled plastic is struggling to keep up with virgin plastics, costing an extra £57 a tonne in comparison. As the demand for virgin plastics continues to go up, the demand for recycled plastics will sadly steadily reduce. However, efforts such as the Plastic Packaging Tax are driving to tackle this.
Paper is easily recyclable and compostable. Paper-recycling facilities are widespread and the infrastructure for recycling paper is strong, enabling consumers to readily recycle paper packaging. In fact, it’s been estimated that for every ton (907kg) of paper that is recycled, 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil and 4,000 kilowatts of energy are all spread.
However, it’s not all positive when it comes to paper. The production of paper actually has a huge carbon footprint and water usage. After the pulping and bleaching stages, some paper mills then do away with their waste product. This waste is a mix of water, alkalis and bleach which then goes directly into the local water supply. Here lies the issue, as this mix of chemicals then endangers aquatic wildlife.
Recent years have seen a rise in reusable materials for packaging, such as reusable and compostable options. Compostable packaging is made from organic matter such as wood pulp, potato starch, bagasse, fungi, cotton and palm leaves and can break down to form nutrient-rich compost.
This packaging has the potential to reduce a large proportion of the packaging waste that would otherwise be headed straight for landfill – but it cannot simply be disposed of in your usual kitchen bin. It ideally requires a compost bin that provides warm temperatures, moisture, oxygen and nutrients which allows the material to break down as intended.
Biodegradable packaging is not to be confused with compostable packaging, despite them working in similar ways. It can also be broken down naturally by bacteria and other living organisms, however, it is not actually 100% safe for the environment.
In fact, biodegradable packaging is getting somewhat of a bad name for itself lately. Significant evidence suggests that biodegradable plastics do not safely biodegrade unless they are subject to very specific atmospheric conditions. Additionally, they wouldn’t degrade in typical marine environments. If they do manage to degrade, they do so into tiny small pieces. This is a huge disadvantage as it contributes to micro-plastics pollution. Biodegradable plastics also cannot be recycled as other plastics can.
How to make packaging sustainable
For brands and packaging designers, the most significant area to consider when developing environmentally-friendly packaging is the material selection, striking the balance between practical and sustainable.
Firstly, it’s important to consider how much packaging is being used. Less really is more. Using less packaging simply involves making packaging as small and compact as possible, without compromising the product and the information needing to be displayed. Excessive amounts of packaging will put the eco-conscious consumer off immediately.
It’s also important to consider whether a packaging solution should be rigid or flexible. Both have positives and negatives. Flexible packaging takes up less space in transport, reducing the number of vehicles used and fuel consumed. However, flexible packaging can be made up of a combination of materials that make them difficult to recycle, leading to some of the products ending up in landfills. Rigid packaging can take up significantly more room in transit but is often much more widely recycled.
Another way to make packaging more sustainable is to give it another use and purpose. There is still a lot of work to be done with this concept, with many different methods being trialled and tested. One example is the Loop reusable packaging system. Consumers purchased their desired products and pay a small refundable deposit to cover the cost of a reusable container. Once the consumer has used up their product, they return the container and swap it for a full one. The returned containers are then cleaned and refilled with the product to be resold.
Tips on moving to sustainable packaging design
Whilst every brand should be considering a move to more sustainable packaging, there are a few things you should think about before doing so.
1. Do your market research
Start by speaking to your customer base about what they would like to see in more sustainable packaging. What design elements would they not want you to compromise on? How much more extra, if any, would they be willing to pay for more sustainable packaging?
2. Adjust your pricing
Speaking of how much your customers would be willing to pay, think about adjusting your prices to complement your smarter, more sustainable packaging design. Making sustainable changes to your business can work out to be a little more expensive than before, so absorbing your costs through sales can be a good option. Just be careful not to push your prices too high. You might send your customers running towards your competitors.
3. Consider a re-design
Implementing too many changes at once can be a difficult line to toe, but a step in the more sustainable direction may be an ideal time to roll out a fresh new look for your products to catch the eye of new customers. Could you switch up the colour palette or logo of your brand and reflect this on your new sustainable packaging design?
4. Shout about your sustainability
As we’ve talked about, consumers want to buy into sustainable brands and sustainable packaging. That’s why you should shout about any sustainability efforts and make your successes heard. Got a positive statistic about the environmental benefits your new sustainable packaging holds? Put it on your packaging – or at least brandish it across your marketing materials. Trust us – consumers want to hear it. Plus, it’ll make you stand out from your competition.
Sustainable packaging design with Vet’s Kitchen
When Vet’s Kitchen committed to improving the sustainability of their pet food packaging, they turned to sustainable packaging specialists Tyler Packaging to help them achieve this. With Vet’s Kitchen’s environmental goals in mind, Tyler developed a super-premium structure for their pet food products made from mono polymer laminate packaging.
Whilst conventional multi-layer composite film layers in packaging are difficult to recycle, the mono polymer technology implemented in Vet’s Kitchen’s new packaging made their solution 100% recyclable and sustainable, constructed from a single polymer resin grade 4 LDPE type.
There was no need to compromise on packaging design either, as the product stood out on the shelves and featured a resealable PTC zipper and an easy-open feature. It also featured an OPRL (on-package recycling label) to prompt customers to dispose of the packaging responsibly and sustainably.
With the help of Tyler Packaging, Vet’s Kitchen was able to reduce their plastic use by over a quarter (27%) on some lines and 17% across their pet food range.
Tyler Packaging’s sustainable packaging options
At Tyler Packaging, we offer a range of sustainable packaging options, from 100% recyclable plastic packaging, to plastic-free products such as our FSC certified kraft paper pouches.
During a recent Life Cycle Assessment on our product range, we found that our 100% recyclable range of materials is our most sustainable packaging option. In fact, customers switching from our PET/PE packaging solution to our 100% recyclable range could potentially use 16% less fossil fuel, make a 21% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and use 26% less water.
Our 100% recyclable range is produced using up to two-layer laminate. These materials move away from the mixed plastic laminates traditionally used which are not recyclable.
At Tyler Packaging, we already provide packaging for companies across multiple industries including pet food, human food, health and wellbeing, gardens and more. If you would like some more information on how we can help you revolutionise your product packaging, please get in touch with us today.