Throwing things away is so 20th century: Sustainable packaging is the future.
Trash is not something most of us really like to dwell on. Like bugs, seasonal-themed sweaters or homework, we know trash exists but we would prefer to ignore it. But times, and technology, have changed, meaning we can not only do something about trash, but also that many of us want to. Let’s talk about sustainability!
Reduce, reuse, recycle
We may or may not have sported a reduce, reuse, recycle bumper sticker on our car before sustainability was even a buzzword, but that’s neither here nor there. What does matter is that we are living in an era of social responsibility—we want to do better for our planet, and we now have technology that makes it easier than ever to protect Mother Earth.
Sustainable packaging is at the top of many people’s lists for ways we can do better. The EPA found that 31 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) comes from packaging-related materials, such as food packaging. Younger generations, in particular, are interested in socially responsible brands, from packages that are made from recycled materials to corporate initiatives to clean up the environment.
Research from the Edelman Brand Study backs this up. The group found that 30 percent of consumers worldwide say they make belief-driven purchase decisions more than they did three years ago—a “new normal” in terms of the socially responsible efforts consumers are demanding from corporations.
Educating the public about sustainability initiatives and campaigns are more easily communicated than ever thanks to social media and viral marketing.
And once consumers know about a campaign, they have indicated a willingness to pay a dollar or two extra for that handsoap bottle that’s made of recycled materials. This holds true for the majority of three generations today. The Edelman Brand Study found that 51 percent of Generation X, 60 percent of millennials and 52 percent of Gen Z base their purchases on a brand’s stance on social issues such as sustainability and recyclability.
Believe it or not, it’s not just hipsters on Etsy that are promoting sustainable packaging with their artisan handicrafts. Titans of industry have also jumped on the bandwagon, from McDonalds to Coke to Disney.
For instance, McDonald’s has pledged to have 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2025, prompted by customers who told the fast food giant that packaging waste was their top environmental issue.
Coca Cola created their “PlantBottle” packaging in 2009, a fully recyclable bottle that is made up of 30 percent plant-based materials. The soda purveyor recently announced its new “World Without Waste” initiative—to collect or recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can the brand sells globally by 2030.
In 2014, Disney launched their Smart Packaging Initiative (SPI), a six-year development process aimed at sustainable packaging that is also behind an open source design and measurement tool that will reduce packaging waste, increase recyclability, optimize on-shelf performance and lower costs for the industry.
Live more green
If corporations are stepping up, what are some things you can do as an individual in terms of incorporating more sustainable packaging in your life? Well, while single product packages, like single-serving chip bags, are convenient, many are made of multi-layered packaging materials which aren’t recyclable. Items like K-cups are made of recyclable materials but because of their size are harder and more expensive to process.
Next, food packaging items like pizza boxes, while recyclable, often are deemed ineligible because we leave food and crumbs in them. Finally, online shopping and shipping is a huge creator of excess packing waste—from the boxes that can be recycled to the plastic and Styrofoam bubbles and peanuts that are often part of shipped packages and which typically aren’t recyclable.