With companies like Coca-Cola using recycled, marine packaging for beverages (Bertrand Connolly, 2019) and Molson Coors vowing to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025 (Lingle, 2019), it’s clear there has been a noticeable shift in how brands are approaching packaging. Over the past five years, there has been a 246% increase in annual eCommerce sales. More sales mean more boxes, sleeves, and envelopes sent out each year to make sure those purchases arrive at your door safe and sound (Orendorff, 2019). During the holiday season of 2018 alone, UPS shipped 750 million packages, a trend that is only slated to increase in the coming years. If we continue on this trajectory, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050 (Le Guern, 2019).
eCommerce is one of the largest contributors to the overuse and over-consumption of packaging. The industry itself is the single-largest consumer of plastic globally (Medium, 2018). According to ANAMA Package and Container Testing Services, Inc., the average package is dropped 17 times during its shipping journey (Bird, 2018). This abuse would make any manufacturer want to double, triple, even quadruple wrap their goods to prevent disappointing customers. When goods are packaged in this over-abundant manner, the contribution to waste increases exponentially.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
With all the buzzwords floating around the internet right now, it would be easy to write sustainable packaging off as just a trendy phrase. However, there is a clear cut definition outlined by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition from 2017. Sustainable packaging is defined by eight points:
- Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
- Meets market criteria for performance and cost
- Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
- Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
- Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
- Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
- Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
- Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles
Despite the scary statistics, there is still plenty of hope. Many consumers say sustainable packaging is important to them when purchasing a product. The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility found that 55% of respondents would pay extra for goods that come from companies committed to environmental responsibility. More impressively, 52% would check their packaging to measure the impact (2019). The sustainable packaging industry is projected to reach more than $142 billion over the next few years (Medium, 2018)
While many organizations are working to update their policies to include sustainable packaging initiatives, most are years away from execution. Whereas companies like Ikea, Lush, Puma, and Nike are already implementing these initiatives, rendering them ahead of the curve.
On a consumer level, there are small steps people can take to reduce their individual impact, but for businesses, the need for change is even more pressing. Below we have compiled the top three trends for 2020 that will continue to move sustainable packaging in the right direction.
Top Three Sustainable Packaging Trends for 2020:
Utilize paper instead of plastic:
Paper goods have been used for packaging for a long time. But, did you ever imagine a time you would be able to use a paper product in the shower? Well, that time is now. L’Oreal has begun using paper shampoo bottles in its brand: Seed Phytonutrients. These bottles are made of water-resistant paper. The development of these recyclable and compostable bottles was the result of a partnership between L’Oreal and Ecologic, founded by Julie Corbett. The process of creating these bottles was taken one step at a time, says Corbett in an article on Seed Phytonutrients’ website.
Each bottle is made using post-consumer paper now, but in the future, L’Oreal hopes to use its own paper waste from paper and cardboard boxes to create a closed-loop. Not only are the bottles completely compostable but they hold a packet of organic seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Company to encourage customers to participate in the ecological effort.
As of November of 2019, L’Oreal is taking the paper bottles even further by incorporating them into beauty brands as well.
Ikea’s mushroom packaging is 100% biodegradable and made by the biomaterials company Ecovative Design. Mushroom packaging is one of the next steps toward a more earth-friendly packaging that can be used in place of Styrofoam. Styrofoam is made by using petroleum, a quickly disappearing resource and a huge emitter of greenhouse gasses. As a plastic, it is included in the 14 million tons of plastic dumped into landfills each year (Medium, 2019). Now, it isn’t just Styrofoam that makes up that number but think of how much of something so light is needed to weigh so much! And since Styrofoam never completely disappears, all that weight remains, harming our environment.
In contrast, Mushroom packaging produces 90% fewer carbon emissions and decomposes within 30-90 days, even when ingested by an animal. Styrofoam never completely disappears. As of 2018, bio-plastics and green-materials only account for 1% of the packaging market, allowing for huge growth over the next few years.
One of the biggest misconceptions about recycling is that all materials labeled as recyclable actually go through the recycling process. In reality, though approximately 75% of people in the United States consistently recycle, only a whopping 9% of all “recycled” plastic actually gets recycled (Polyfreeplanet, 2018). This discrepancy is referred to as an open-loop recycling system. A closed-loop recycling system is a more effective way to recycle used goods. This system takes the recyclable item and turns it into a new product. Similar to how Nike and Puma turn marine plastic into shoes.
Lush has created an incentive for customers to engage with its closed-loop recycling. Lush customers receive one free product when they return five “little black pots” to the store. The company sends these pots back to the manufacturer to be reused and integrated into new packaging. When you bring five of Lush’s “little black pots” back to the store. You then receive one free product! Their black pots are already very environmentally friendly as all the plastic used to make them comes from the North West area of the United States and all production happens in Oregon and British Columbia. Since all of the production happens in a similar geographic region, Lush is cutting down on transportation emissions. (Lush.com).
As an eCommerce Branding Strategist, Anna Baron works closely with clients to develop and implement specific strategies in review management as well as paid and organic content. Her hardworking mindset lends well to executing her innovative and big picture objectives. With five years of experience in brand strategy, she has helped many brands seamlessly achieve their goals.