The Future of Sustainable Packaging: Innovations and Trends

Sustainable PackagingConsumer preferences naturally shape sales trends, so shoppers’ opinions, perceptions, and beliefs influence marketing and packaging choices. From trending colors and graphics styles to popular package sizes, designers, merchandisers, and contract packaging companies regularly respond to consumer trends, devising packaging and logistics solutions that cater to public demand.

Although some consumer-driven packaging solutions are short-lived, reflecting momentary trends or seasonal cycles, consumer concerns can also lead to lasting transformations. Among the important trends driving the future of packaging innovation, consumers’ growing commitment to sustainable solutions strongly influences modern packaging choices.

Green Alternatives Rooted in Consumer Consciousness

Environmental consciousness is on the rise, transforming the consumer landscape. As buyers strengthen their commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly packaging and distribution practices, forward-looking companies are positioning their brands alongside sustainable packaging solutions.

A recent study proves that when environmental consciousness and ecological concerns merge with commerce, sustainable packaging is an increasingly important factor for consumers’ spending decisions. Surveying 10,000 respondents, from 17 countries, the Global Sustainability Study found at least 60% of respondents rated sustainability as an important purchase criterion. In the United States, 61% of those studied rated sustainability as important.

Viewing themselves as agents for change, consumers from recent generations are more likely than older shoppers to pay the financial price for holding producers accountable for sustainable practices. Putting their money to work for the environment, Millennials and consumers from Generation Z are most willing to pay a premium for sustainable alternatives. Compared to Baby Boomers, who are prepared to pay a 14% premium for sustainability, Generation Z will pay a 32% premium to buy sustainable products and services.

Overall, more than 50% of those polled rated sustainability as a top-five value driver. According to the study, the US topped the list of shoppers willing to pay extra for sustainable practices; 42% of US study subjects expressed willingness to pay more in exchange for sustainability. The National Association of Convenience Stores cites another comprehensive study looking at consumers’ relationship with sustainability, reporting 67% of respondents expressed it is important for the products they buy to be packaged using recyclable materials.

The evolving sustainability movement is committed to meeting present-day needs without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same. More than a passing trend, the drive for sustainability has momentum, generating incentives for brands seeking ways to incorporate green innovation into their packaging and production strategies. Aligning brand values with consumer-held environmental concerns is a sound business practice in today’s greening marketplace, and the expanding environmental consciousness shared by younger consumers ensures a prominent future for sustainable packaging practices.

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Sustainable Packaging Industry Growth and Innovation Opportunities

According to the longstanding definition adopted by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, sustainable packaging must be beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle. In addition, the packaging must be sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy. Sustainable packaging is also designed to maximize materials and energy and optimize the use of renewable and recycled source materials.

As consumer demand regulates back toward pre-pandemic levels, the sustainable packaging industry is poised for a CAGR above 5% through 2028. One recent sustainability industry study predicts the value of the global sustainable packaging industry is expected to rise from $258 billion in 2020, to more than $385 billion in 2028. Green food packaging, in particular, is in high demand. Once production and demand achieve lasting balance, the stakes are high for producers and packagers committed to going green. Although adopting sustainable practices often comes at a price, investing in sustainability not only yields environmental benefits, but also strengthens brand relationships with eco-conscious consumers.

Sustainable Packaging Strategies for the Future

Unified by the shared goal of protecting and preserving natural resources, sustainability efforts encompass wide-ranging activities designed to reduce humans’ impact on the environment. Moves toward sustainable packaging include reducing or eliminating the use of non-degradable materials, as well as adopting efficient strategies for transporting raw materials and finished goods.

As consumers adopt sustainable practices, contract packagers and other supply chain stakeholders follow suit with green packaging solutions, designed to reduce waste, optimize raw materials, and capitalize on sustainable technology advances. With comprehensive sustainability programs still on the horizon for many companies, the following strategies are already producing results.

Reduce the Amount of Material Used in Packaging

Packaging innovation includes high-tech solutions such as bio-based materials, but getting back to basics also yields sustainability benefits. When measuring the overall environmental impact of common packaging methods, significant gains are possible by reducing the volume of material required for each packaging job, without sacrificing protection and presentation.

Adopting a less is more strategy includes lightweighting, a universal effort focused on thinning and streamlining containers. Corrugated boxes, in particular, are rightsized for greater efficiency and lightweighted to reduce waste. The corrugated industry represents such a large segment of the packaging industry; even small reductions translate into measurable sustainability benefits. In another example of streamlining success, utilizing thinner PET bottles is thought to have reduced the amount of plastic used in ketchup, salad dressing, and soda bottles by as much as 50%.

Re-evaluate and Redesign Packaging for Functionality

Every stage of packaging and distribution offers opportunities for greater environmental efficiency. Reimagining product packaging might be as simple as altering package shapes for better boxing efficiency or as advanced as developing new material technologies.

In one example yielding greater sustainability for shippers, traditional hard corner inserts typically used to reinforce pallets before wrapping can now be eliminated in many cases. A special pre-stretched, reinforced wrap reduces the amount of packaging required for each pallet, without compromising the load. Another expanding food and beverage packaging practice, directly printing labels on glass and cans, is a sustainability measure, reducing the use of paper and glue.

Utilize Readily Recyclable and Reusable Materials

Paper packaging alternatives effectively replace plastic packaging in some cases, but paper products commonly require many times more bulk than their plastic counterparts, limiting the overall benefits of replacing polymers with paper. Facing popular demand for convenient, single-use packaging solutions, manufacturers and packagers must continue devising sustainable packaging alternatives comprised of paper and other readily recycled materials.

Embrace Bio-based Packaging Materials and Sustainability Advances

Bio-based packaging innovations include coatings and films, as well as solid and semi-solid containers. The game-changing packaging alternatives are comprised of substances gathered from plants and animal biomass. Proteins, polylactic acid, polysaccharides, cellulose, and xanthan are all utilized in sustainable bio-based packaging alternatives.

One emerging plant-based packaging innovation uses dairy-based packaging materials to reduce reliance on synthetic polymers. The food packaging alternative incorporates casein and whey derived from milk, creating food packaging films. The films are biodegradable and improved versions are becoming more effective providing barrier protection.

Manufacturers, producers, and their contract packaging partners continually cater to consumer preferences, ultimately reflecting their customers’ values. One important feature of the modern marketplace, sustainable packaging is a prominent value driver, influencing how shoppers spend their money. As packaging and logistics strategies continue evolving, sustainable packaging is poised for further growth, shaping packaging practices into the future.

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