Over the years, the packaging industry has had some bad press in regards 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.
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 can they make their packaging design more sustainable?
Sustainable packaging in a circular economy
The circular economy has become increasingly influential in the packaging industry as brands strive to make their products more sustainable. But what does a circular economy 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.
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. For instance, paper is easily recyclable and compostable, however, the production of paper has a huge carbon footprint and water usage.
The most popular and practical material used in food packaging is plastic. We rely on plastic for food packaging because it offers strong protection against contamination and damage, preserves products for longer, allows products to be safely transported over great distances and offers the opportunity for product information to be displayed.
A common type of plastic used in the packaging industry is PET, short for Polyethylene Terephthalate. It’s strong, lightweight, transparent and recyclable. However, whilst it can be recycled, this sadly is not always the case. A whopping 91% of plastic is not recycled. The vast majority instead accumulates in landfills or sits within the environment as litter. Often, it ends up in the ocean. Also, plastic takes around 400 years to decompose. It may degrade into smaller and smaller pieces but once it’s been produced, it’s generally here to stay.
For this reason, there has been a rise in reusable materials for packaging, such as reusable and compostable options. Compostable packaging is not to be confused with biodegradable packaging. Whilst biodegradable packaging can be broken down naturally by bacteria and other living organisms, it is not 100% safe for the environment. Compostable packaging, however, is made from organic matter and can break down to form nutrient-rich compost.
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 trialed 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.
Tyler Packaging’s sustainable packaging options
In the meantime though, companies can simply opt for more sustainable materials. 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.