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Sustainable Packaging Trends

Posted 03/25/2020 by Justine Hanlon, Regional Market Manager, ACS and Flexible Packaging

Sustainability in packaging has gone from a niche goal of a few small companies to a global phenomenon in the past 18 months. There are many prominent resources of information, but packaging doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all model. Different materials and goods have different packaging requirements; the item being packaged must be considered when talking about packaging and the role it plays.

There is enormous opportunity to make sure the packaging for different goods is not over-engineered but is fit for use. Paper is inherently better for some items but raises questions around deforestation. Glass is a preferred packaging material, but it has a large carbon footprint. Multilayer laminates, also known as flexible packaging, can be difficult to recycle. All packaging formats come with tradeoffs, but understanding what you’re packing, where the package is going and where it ends up will help you decide which trend is worth navigating.

Brand Expectations (Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Expectations)

As consumers become more eco-conscious and values driven, they become aware of the impact their purchases have on the environment and the conversation increasingly turns toward packaging. Packaging can protect brand integrity, protect contents, reduce food waste and delight customers. However, packaging can be a significant challenge for CPGs, as made evident by the viral videos of packaging washing ashore onto beaches around the world. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has reported that 8 million tons of plastic waste go into the world’s oceans every year. Consumers are increasingly reacting to statistics like this by asking for greater transparency from CPGs and, therefore, the world’s largest packaging suppliers. In a recent global survey conducted by Nielsen, 81% of respondents believe brands have a responsibility to help improve the environment. 

E-commerce Sustainability

Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP) initiative is the market leader, changing packaging one box and bag at a time. E-commerce sustainability, although still in its infancy, is gaining traction among consumers who are concerned about the environmental impact of the increased frequency of shipping. Amazon’s Vendor Incentive Program applies to all items larger than 18 x 14 x 8 in. or 20 lb. or more and requires all packaging to be designed and certified as Tier 1 FFP or Tier 2 Ships in Own Container (SIOC). Other online retailers are following suit and reviewing their packaging carefully. Their efforts include: reducing excess packaging, evaluating easy open features, and looking at packaging that is easier to recycle or reuse. The goal for all retailers is to reduce packaging waste and the shipment of empty space.

Reducing Packaging

There’s growing demand around the world to limit the proliferation of single-use plastics and governments are responding with legislation, regulations and taxes designed to drive change. Reducing single-use plastics is a noble goal and there is growing exploration into not just reducing single-use plastics, but single-use packaging altogether. This forward thinking suggests that brands and consumers are becoming savvier and more mindful of throw-away culture, regardless of the package type.

Reusing Packaging

Along with the trend of reducing packaging, there is a growing interest in reusable packaging with companies from LOOP, Sealed Air and Conscious Container piloting different packaging formats that can be easily reused or repurposed. Companies across the circular economy value chain are looking to quickly innovate in response to consumer demand, the quantity of packaging and type of material they use based on the materials sustainability impact.

Recycling Partnerships

As the sustainability megatrend continues to gain steam, large CPGs are driving demand for recycled content such as Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR). However, the demand is currently outpacing supply due to the fractured nature of plastics recycling recovery efforts in some countries. Sensing an opportunity within the flexible packaging industry, companies are partnering with or creating their own recycling groups. The aim is to vertically integrate the recycling of typically hard to recycle plastics into the packaging production chain. This allows large packaging converters to ensure their own supply of recycled material and help their customers achieve their goals.

Navigating the trends in sustainable packaging can be difficult. As new technologies evolve and larger global CPGs become more open about their sustainability initiatives, looking at how to best serve your customers can be overwhelming. At H.B. Fuller, connecting what matters extends beyond adhesives – to connecting you to the right subject matter expert for your sustainable packaging needs. H.B. Fuller has many different adhesives that are all able to support your sustainable solution needs, across many different areas. Contact us to learn more.

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