Sustainable packaging is any packaging that offers substantially reduced environmental ramifications by using sustainable materials from renewable sources. While sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging is not the same, they provide the much-needed solution to the ecological crisis.
Sustainable packaging is a subset of sustainable development, which means meeting the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is our moral responsibility to leave the earth in a condition conducive to future generations.
Sustainable packaging has been a big argument in recent years, with differing opinions.
Is it possible to incorporate sustainable packaging without businesses and consumers incurring exorbitant costs?
Yes, achieving both environment-friendly and cost-optimizing packaging solutions in the packaging industry is possible. The problem is that people assume that this means completely doing away with cheap packaging that has been the preferred option for decades, for example, plastic.
Why is sustainable packaging the future
The growing awareness of the younger generation
We must applaud the younger generation for their increasing concern for the state of the earth. As they are commonly referred to, Generation Z is hyper-aware and vocal about the need to save the planet. They go as far as putting popular brands on blast on social media for their failure to reduce the carbon footprint during the production and distribution of merchandise.
Brands can take advantage of this by slowly embodying the ideals of eco-friendliness. Consumers are more inclined to shop from companies embracing sustainable and eco-friendly packaging.
Staggering contribution of the packaging industry to waste development
Although non-biodegradable packaging is not the only cause of our current and urgent climate crisis, it plays a huge role that we cannot continue to ignore. Look around you; we have so much packaging littered around us without even realizing: chocolate bar wrappers, your Door Dash order, the box where your new charger came, your order of a new pair of sneakers, the baby shower gift you just bought your sister. We accumulate a lot of packaging without knowing the kind of footprint we are solely responsible for in the long run.
The packaging industry itself is a billion-dollar enterprise. Because a single piece of plastic packaging is ridiculously cheap, it is the number one option for brands. Now putting together all the brands that use it, all the plastic wrap and mailers and bottles and cans, the packaging sector generates $900 billion in annual revenues worldwide.
A recent study showed that the packaging industry is on track to keep growing at a rate of 3.1% annually from now until 2022. A complete 70% of this growth comes from emerging markets, where a rising middle class is increasingly looking for the convenience of single-use plastic.
According to a recent study, by 2025, 250 million metric tons of plastic are expected to end up in the oceans unless we start taking drastic action. Without it, the sea will contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish.
But not all hope is lost. There are several steps we can take to combat this climate crisis.
Measures to save the planet through sustainable packaging
1. Share disposal and recycling best practices
Businesses can start by indicating whether their packaging can be recycled or reused. Brands can also use their packaging to remind their buyers to avoid littering and do their part in protecting their environment.
2. Opting for less wasteful packaging
A new trend in marketing and selling luxury is extravagant merchandise unboxing. Brands take advantage of the “fear of missing out” by packaging their products in carefully lavish and excessively embellished materials to justify the price. Cutting down on unnecessary packaging can be a small step in reducing waste. Another advantage is the amount of money businesses can save because additional packaging materials mean high shipping costs.
3. Eliminating over-packaging throughout the supply chain
You might decide to use sustainable packaging, but this means nothing if your shipping company does not align with your environment-friendly alternatives. Go out of your way to partner with brands that use eco-friendly materials throughout the process and ask for as little packaging material as possible to be used.
4. Recover for reuse initiatives
As a company, you can set up systems where buyers can return packaging materials that are still in good shape. This is already being done in many countries for soda and beer bottles. You could offer points to consumers redeemable after a certain number of packaging items are returned. This could encourage consumers to avoid recklessly disposing of packaging materials if there is money or other rewards to make from it.
5. Embracing recyclability, compostability, and reusability
As a company, you can research affordable and sustainable packaging alternatives. These terms are similar but with different meanings, as you will see.
You can repurpose this packaging material after it is used for its intended purpose, like holding food or liquid or protecting the contents of a package. Examples include glass, metal, and, recently, specific plastic, corrugated cardboard, whose recycling rate is the highest and most promising, seven times before the material is too flimsy. A more specific example is kraft packaging, which has high tear resistance and elasticity, good durability, and reuse requirements.
This is a material capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a composting environment without leaving any harmful residue. This means it will ultimately be absorbed into the soil. Such materials include paper coffee cups with PLA linings and fiber food containers.
It is also increasingly being used for packaging from corn starch, making them perfect for food packaging. On top of being non-toxic, they can quickly decompose while leaving a negligible amount of carbon dioxide.
Although these are all viable options, there is a need to ensure that the cost of sustainable packaging does not discourage businesses that would wish to take up sustainable packaging. Here is where the government comes in. How?
Why not incentivize companies that are incorporating eco-friendly packaging?
Governments can offer tax cuts to those embracing sustainable packaging options to encourage other firms to take up sustainable packaging. This will cut down production and shipping costs because of packaging with minimal material and increase sales because individuals want to be associated with eco-friendly brands.
Banning packaging materials that cannot be recycled, reused, or composted.
Although this cannot be done right away, governments can offer grace periods to manufacturers and businesses before it completely outlaws the use of packaging materials that are harmful to the environment. Several governments have started this initiative, for example, altogether banning plastic straws, and it is going a long way in saving the planet.
We still have a long way to go when it comes to curbing the climate crisis, but sustainable packaging is a good start.