Pack it in: the first thing your customers notice

Packaging is the first thing that consumers see, and it can heavily influence their buying decisions. 

Although innovation is offering solutions to the sustainable packaging challenge, many companies continue to make packaging mistakes. These happen because companies still tend to focus on two priorities: 

  1. how will this drive consumers to my product? and
  2. how much does this cost?

Packaging is more complicated than it looks, and sustainable packaging - not a difficult concept to understand - involves some particularly complex considerations:

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Are we too hung-up

on end-of-life innovations? There's so much to consider when looking at sustainable packaging

Can you replace a rigid container with a pouch? Are you removing a carton and letting a toothpaste tube or bag of cereals stand on their own on a shelf? How about creating one bulk pack instead of multiple single-serve items? Can you switch materials, such as using PET instead of PVC because it is easier to recycle? Would it be more efficient to change from a round to a square container, in order to be more space-efficient? How can you ensure faster set-up times on your packaging line, to minimise the amount of materials required and packaging waste generated? Have you made consumers aware of the value of your packaging and how it can be re-reprocessed or reused?

Of course, sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Nor is it the sole focus of a company's greening targets. Rightly or wrongly, packaging is disproportionately scrutinised and used as a measure of a company's overall sustainability credentials. This may seem unfair, given that it may contribute a relatively small proportion of the Carbon footprint compared to other things, such as transportation, water and energy use.

There is a particular focus on end of life, with the result that many businesses are looking at closing the loop, to ensure collection, re-cleaning, reprocessing and remaking of packaging within a relatively short timeframe.

However, I would argue that true sustainable packaging needs to go well beyond consideration of its environmental impacts, to consider the social impacts, too. A far-reaching chain-of-custody certification which includes ethical material sourcing and manufacturing conditions is essential; and it's true economic cost needs to be taken into account.

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It's our biggest challenge

High-value products need to be packaged to ensure their safe transportation. but discerning customers demand a sustainable approach

Sustainable packaging is rife for rethinking, to identify innovative solutions to the challenges faced across all business sectors. The surge in public interest around environmental pollution resulting from plastics is driving regulatory responses by governments, and conscious consumers are making purchasing choices based on what they consider to be more sustainable options. The development of plant-based, compostable bioplastics is accelerating (e.g. Coca-Cola's PlantBottle). But bioplastics are just one alternative - bamboo, wheat straw and mushroom-based packaging are at the forefront of a packaging revolution.

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Mushroom-based packaging is now being introduced by large businesses such as IKEA, as a replacement for difficult-to-recycle polystyrene

Two particular personal frustrations are the ubiquitous crisp/snack packaging and take-away packaging, e.g. pizza boxes.

Why must we continue to see bags made from up to seven separate layers of foil and plastic? Yes, I do appreciate that this makes them light, reduces their shipping volume, ensures that they don't take up much shelf space, and results in them being graphics-friendly. But, they're not recyclable because the machinery is not yet out there to separate the layers.

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Why can't we recycle this?

There are currently no plastic-free or recyclable crisp packets from any brand.

As for pizza boxes (and other take-away containers), they're made of recyclable materials. The trouble is that they get contaminated, as cheese and other food scraps stick to the cardboard. Then they're no longer recyclable. Let's makes consumers aware of the value of the packaging, possibly by offering an incentive to clean and recycle boxes. Alternatively, let's see a move across the sector to compostable containers.

So, while it is true that the first impression makes the best impression, we live in rapidly-changing times and more than two-thirds of consumers say that sustainability of packaging now influences their purchasing decisions. It's time to step-up to the challenge. Switching over to sustainable packaging can result in a change in the overall cost to a business. The cost incurred may not be at a skyrocketing rate in most cases, but undoubtedly higher than traditional packaging designs. These additional costs are eventually passed on to the customers by companies to maintain their profit levels. Sometimes customers might start feeling that they are being overcharged for the same product, but the trend towards conscious consumers is real. Increased regulation will also act as a driver to change behaviour. You can't afford to be left behind.

You might have amazing ideas for incorporating sustainability packaging into your business, but at the same time, you need the help of experienced designers and marketers for implementation. Designers can help you identify the packaging that is best suited for your product without compromising the quality and appearance of packaging. At the same time, marketing professionals can help you pave the way to attract more customers..

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Don't put all your eggs in one basket

When it comes to packaging. There are multiple considerations. Seek help and make informed decisions

It's essential that companies understand their entire product lifecycle and choose the materials that are best suited for their products rather than choosing the most sustainable packaging option in isolation. Not all types of sustainable packaging can help retain the quality and intactness of the content inside for a long period, and this is certainly an area for more research. By consulting experts, businesses can make informed packaging choices to provide the most durability with reduced costs, and be authentic in their commitment to sustainability. At the end of the day, it is all about choosing what is right for the brand. Th question is "can your business afford to ignore the waves of change?" - first impressions count!