Four emerging trends in sustainable packaging

Paper Force
By Larry Jackson*
Tuesday, 02 September, 2014

*Larry Jackson, Managing Director at Paper Force, an Australian operated and managed business partner of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP).

As consumers in many markets have increased access to information through technology, we believe there is, and will continue to be, a growing demand for sustainably sourced packaging.

This has contributed to consumers heightening their focus on business environmental practices, signalling their demand for sustainable packaging (the global market for which is projected to hit $244 billion by 2018) as well as broader corporate transparency and accountability. In fact, nearly 70% of Australian consumers perceive products as over-packaged, according to research conducted by Datamonitor.

It’s become clear that retailers and manufacturers across many industries - from food and beverage and pharmaceutical to consumer products - are seeking to innovate while incorporating associated sustainability implications.

There are four rising trends in sustainable packaging:

1. Traceability

With the scale and unconnected nature of the global economy increasing every year, products and their packaging can be derived from ever-more distant and varied sources. Yet all the consumer needs to know is that it comes from an ethical and sustainable source.

This is driving a level of transparency that requires companies to work with suppliers who have an environmental management system and are engaged in broader sustainability strategies or programs.

2. Labelling

Consumers are insisting on clearer labelling with regard to sustainability. They want recycling labels that provide clear instructions and labels that provide easy-to-understand information about how to manage various packaging components at end of life.  A simple QR code, supported by internet and mobile app communications, will help consumers get better information faster. Additionally, it provides channels for brands to better engage their consumers.

There are various initiatives underway to reform recycling labelling, such as the Australian Packaging Covenant’s Sustainable Packaging Guidelines, a nationwide labelling initiative to reduce confusion and misinformation about recycling by creating universal on-package labelling, referring to AS/NZS ISO 14021:2000 guidelines.

3. Re-usability

Traditionally, re-usable packaging was limited to manufacturer and retailer use of re-usable pallets, racks, bulk containers and the like. While this contributed to a more-efficient and less-wasteful supply chain, similar approaches didn’t broadly extend to the consumer level.

More recently, re-usable packaging for items such as retail food products is attracting consumer interest. For example, JOCO, a glass coffee-cup manufacturer, designs its products to have an element of re-use. Its packaging comes with a couple of suggestions aimed at preventing consumers from throwing it away, such as using as a pencil holder or a drinks bottle holder for your bike.

Customers appreciate this secondary use, engendering positive brand associations from a cleverly sustainable purchase decision.

4. Responsibly grown

Today, companies must consider materials derived from renewable resources, be it recycled material or plantation-grown fibre, such as quick-growing trees in equatorial climates, waste wheat chaff or other materials. For example, there is increasing demand for paper and board packaging made from virgin fibre sustainably sourced from renewable plantations.

Other advantages of paper and board are that it is generally light in weight, can be recycled and once exhausted it can fully biodegrade. Even carton, traditionally more difficult to recycle due to laminate layers, is experiencing a boom as new recycling capabilities and technology emerges.

As consumers, NGOs and other third-party stakeholders demand greater levels of transparency and accountability from companies, particularly in the sustainability space, heightened expectations will continue to scrutinise the manufacturing and production of packaging materials

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