Many global companies are focusing on the move toward reusable and sustainable packaging as a way to improve their corporate branding and social following. Consumer surveys suggest that as much as two thirds of consumers take interest in brands that focus on using reusable packaging.
Millennial consumers have supercharged the eco-conscious movement using social media. Global companies have listened and responded. Amazon works with its suppliers to reduce excessive packaging, and it has switched to a greater portion of paper and biodegradable packaging. Unilever have started to launch pilots and focus on reusable solutions, and McDonald’s announced its packaging will be 100% renewable and recycled by 2025. Many have found investing in eco initiatives improves brand awareness and eventually the bottom line.
A recent study found that 37% of US consumers focus on sustainability when making buying decisions, and 30% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims.
There have also been many scientific advancements in plant-based packaging and biodegradable plastic packaging. These new capabilities will make significantly improve the cost for sustainable packaging going forward. Plant-based plastics appear to be a promising step. Plant-based plastic is a type of bioplastic that is created from food scraps, often from corn, sugarcane, wheat or food waste. The term plant-based refers to the original material itself, not how the plastic will decompose after it is used.
Plastic is popular because it is cheap, easy to shape and mold, strong, and can be transparent. Its strength and durability are exactly what makes it so harmful to the environment. Non-biodegradable plastics can last for over 500 years. Newer biodegradable variants can naturally decompose in months or years rather than centuries. Certain strains of bacteria are able to help decompose certain bioplastics.
Plastics make their way into landfills, rivers and oceans. Animals and fish eat them and can die as a result — a whale found near the Philippines had over 88 pounds of plastic lodged in its belly. Scientists are now finding micro-plastics that have traveled by air and water as far away as unpopulated segments of Antarctica.
About eight percent of the world’s oil becomes plastic. Moving to alternatives such as bioplastics will help reduce the carbon footprint associated with producing and shipping oil. More importantly, it will enable some countries who import all of their oil to create domestic industries producing their own bioplastics.
A large amount of food is wasted every year due to spoilage and leftovers. The wasted food could be utilized and converted to bioplastics, rather than making its way to landfills where it eventually creates methane gas released to the environment. Pursuing this route could take some time given it would require additional transportation and logistics.
The eco-conscious trend is encouraging, and the packing industry will continue to evolve based on consumer preferences. The shift toward reusable and sustainable packaging could help reduce greenhouse gases in the environment, as well as clean up our oceans and rivers. New industries will be born from the shift toward bioplastics and sustainability.