Just like e-commerce and fashion, the packaging industry has always been subject to annual shifts and tremendous technological changes. One moment your favorite bottle of cola will be used to serve drinks; the next, it will become just a small bottle to store water. The global shift toward reducing carbon footprint and sustainability has resulted in a widespread change in the manner we think and design products. And it’s well-known brands that are paving the way.
In 2018, the Coca-Cola Company — the U.S.-based multinational beverage company — pledged to recycle a bottle for every one sold by 2030. The company has also committed to only use recycled materials by 2030 and implement recyclable green packaging by 2025. Furthermore, renowned beauty company Lush has been campaigning plastic-free and naked packaging for quite a while. In over a year, Lush shoppers have saved 800,000 bottles from being dumped in landfills.
Los Angeles-based women’s fashion brand Reformation pledges to replace its clothing with one that is both sustainably sourced and fashionable. Their innovative plant-based compostable route has set the standard for others to follow. Some of the other carbon-neutral trends that dominated last year were the drive towards less single-use plastics, in-store refills, and plantable and biodegradable packaging. For example, famous fashion designer Stella McCartney has eliminated the use of plastics from her packaging and is also associated with the Canopy Pack4Good Initiative, which aims to reduce the impact of the fashion industry on the world’s ancient forests.
Another trend that is on the rise since last year is minimalism (that encourages millennials to cut back on the number of things that they own.) Simple packaging design allows the product to shine through, for example, the simple water bottles made from plastic recycled from the ocean.
We are living in a world where there are social media backlashes, digital transformation, and mass climate change. People are focusing more on shifting ideologies, innovating tech-savvy products, and global transformation. Consumers are more aware of their social responsibility, and companies have to be conscious of how this impacts on the market. A consumer or a brand wanting to create a difference in this world will look to their sphere of influence to decide what they can do to save this planet. According to a study by Unilever, 33% of consumers buy products from brands committed to reducing the carbon footprint. Another research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that 65% of consumers opt for sustainable products.
At present, more and more companies and brands are looking forward to sustainability, not merely because it’s the preference of their customers, but because they are beginning to understand their role in making the planet a better place.
Here are the critical green packaging trends to look out for in 2020.
1. More brands are shifting to sustainable packaging.
In the last two years, many brands have publicly announced their plans to make their packaging more sustainable, primarily because of the threat of losing the social license to use plastics if we do not find a way to recover them and their escape into the environment. This includes commitments made by brands, as well as collective commitments such as the New Plastics Economy.
Most of the companies with similar commitments pledged to achieve them by 2025 or 2030, and hence 2030 represents a drastic turning point for action. The brands will need to formulate strategic plans to achieve their goals and invest resources into implementing them. Organizations that have yet to make any commitment of the sort will join the tribe this year, or else risk falling behind their rivals.
2. Brands innovate to strengthen end markets.
More and more companies who have created packaging by making use of recycled plastics in high levels (more than 90%) have been in the headlines, both from post-industrial and post-consumer sources. The need to create feasible end markets for recycled content of plastics as a way to help meet companies their green packaging goals have been on the rise. This year, recycled plastics will be the path for many suppliers to explore.
Moreover, the number of collaborations across the value chain to improve the processing of recycled plastics in new applications will increase. Partnerships in regards to chemical recycling have reached new heights, including the collaboration with Mars, Recycling Technologies, Nestlé, and Total to produce oil from mixed flexible packaging. The partnership claims to use this oil in producing polymers, creating new possibilities for end markets. Developing these possibilities in the marketplace as well as new end markets is critical to avoid losing the feasibility of recycling for different products.
3. Companies will replace substrates to commit to their goals.
In distress around plastics and meeting recovery goals for plastics, few brands are exploring different options. We have seen an increase in paper-based solutions, edible substrates, and other recyclable and compostable solutions being launched on a large scale. The market is in intransigent mode, which is more likely to carry on through the 2020s.
While discoveries in new packaging designs can be thrilling and encouraging, they can likewise be a negative trend, as plastics often leave a positive carbon impact on other substrates. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a powerful voice in green packaging that advocates for every design to carefully consider the effect of carbon on the environment to avoid shifting the problem to other environmental impacts to achieve the goal of recyclability.
4.Brands are considering reusable packaging more seriously.
The new Economy’s Global Commitment advocates reuse as the main element, and an ever-increasing number of signatories are evaluating their packaging portfolios, seeking better opportunities in reusables. Many companies, including Unilever and Blue Bottle Coffee, have announced plans to commit more to reuse and refill business models.
On the other hand, small economic brands are looking forward to entering the market with reusable models to replace plastic or paperboard packaging with closed-loop models that work beyond B2B. The focus on reducing and reusing, which comes even bore recycling on the waste hierarchy, is again becoming a crucial part of the packaging sustainability conversation.
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5. The importance of material health is increasing in packaging.
Recently, the How2Recycle labeling program announced that any packaging containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) intentionally will not be given the tag of Not Yet Recycled. This is one of the many indicators that this year won’t be in favor of PFAS. These substances are commonly used in foodservice packaging and are known as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment. The scientists are questioning their health impacts, and brands are being pushed over efforts to minimize health risks.
New regulations are being passed over Europe and North America. Several brands have already stopped making PFAS packaging products. The products we recycle should be considered safe to use, and then circular.