Packaging is often the first physical touchpoint a customer has with a brand and product – the form, function, and branding of the packaging can be very influential on a purchasing decision. However, packaging has a massive sustainability problem that can’t be ignored. Today the world produces 400 million tons of plastic waste annually, 36% of which is from packaging and 85% of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
Rethinking how we package products can improve the sustainability and circularity of these materials, address health concerns like microplastics and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria along the way, and even provide an improved business case.
With that in mind, let’s dive into four trends and innovations in sustainable packaging that will define the future of the category.
- Reducing and recycling plastic packaging – The biggest concern – and area for potential impact – is to reduce waste from plastic packaging by using less material and ensuring it’s recyclable. In Europe, the packaging recycling rate was 64% in 2020, but only 16% globally, showing significant progress in some areas but a long way to go on the whole.
- Making strides with mono-materials – Another way to improve the recyclability and overall circularity of packaging is through the use of mono-materials. Mono-material packaging – or packaging that contains just a single material in its composition – reduces the amount of material needed for packaging, but also improves recyclability, reducing cost for manufacturers and effort for recyclers.
- Biodegradable and repurposable packaging – Biodegradable packaging is an emerging field with many new opportunities, but one example is Ecovative Design, which is pioneering a styrofoam alternative made from mushroom roots that can be composted so that when the packaging cannot be recycled, it breaks down naturally over time.
- Antimicrobial awareness and innovation – Antimicrobial packaging is becoming an emerging trend in the food industry, but also has applications in health products, especially among growing concerns of surface-transmissible diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
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