Sustainability in Packaging—the Reality of the Market

By Monica Hollifield, MSDN, RDN

A study led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that nearly 8 million tons of plastic waste end up in oceans each year.1 By 2050, the report indicates that plastic debris will outweigh fish globally if changes are not made.1 Sustainable packaging is one way to begin to tackle the issue of plastic waste, and consumers are on board with the change.

A survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group on 15,000 consumers found that 67% of those surveyed consider the sustainability of the packaging of products they purchase to be important.2 A whopping 83% of consumers 44 years or younger surveyed stated they’re willing to pay more for sustainable packaging with that number dropping to 70% for all consumers surveyed.2 Forty-eight percent of consumers surveyed said that sustainable packaging is more important to them now than it was before the pandemic.3 While most shoppers have become more frugal since the start of the pandemic, they’ve also become more socially conscious; they’ve seen the effects the pandemic and national shutdowns have had and believe this has highlighted the fraught relationship manufactures and consumers have with planet earth.3 For many, the driving force behind seeking out products packaged sustainably is that it is “the right thing to do” for the future of our planet.3

This increase in consumer awareness is poised to continue its growth, and the industry is preparing for that—the sustainable packaging market is projected to grow at a rate of 9.25% between 2021-2026.1,2 Large corporations are following suit, with dozens of food manufactures signing onto the “Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment” which aims to achieve 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025.2 Unfortunately, while the desire to change may be there, switching to sustainable packaging is not that easy.

Sustainable packaging costs an average of 25% more when compared to traditional packaging, and that more costly packaging may not perform in the same way as traditional packaging.2 Temperature changes or extreme temperatures are oftentimes a challenge for the materials used in sustainable packaging, and retention of freshness can also be compromised. “I’d love for us to be able to use 100% sustainable packaging, but unfortunately the packaging that’s out there today just doesn’t meet our needs—for the price you’d pay for these materials, the efficacy for our needs is just not there yet” says Nicolas Oppel, Director of Procurement at DeliverLean. He’s received several sustainable packaging samples, but none of them have been able to pass the rigorous testing used for all DeliverLean products.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing sustainable packaging, most companies can seek to fulfill the long-term goal of achieving sustainability in packaging by replacing the use of single-use packaging and simultaneously instilling a re-use culture among consumers through brand and package messaging.4 Hopefully there will come a time when all packaging used across industries will be sustainably sourced, manufactured, and recycled. Until then, consumers can continue to use their purchasing power to voice their support for sustainable packaging as scientists and engineers race to create packaging that can compete equitably with traditional packaging.

References

  1. Sustainable packaging market 2021 size, status and global outlook. Tanmay. The ShotCaller Web Site. https://theshotcaller.net/sustainable-packaging-market-2021-size-status-and-global-outlook-amcor-limited-westrock-company-tetrapak-international-s-a-sonoco-products-company/. Published May 16, 2021. Accessed June 2021.
  2. Consumer demand for sustainable packaging holds despite pandemic. Manning, LA. FoodDive Web Site. https://www.fooddive.com/news/consumer-demand-for-sustainable-packaging-holds-despite-pandemic/599013/. Published April 27, 2021. Accessed June 2021.
  3. Packaging in a pandemic: sustainable packaging still a priority during COVID-19. Straus, MA. Nutritional Outlook Web Site. https://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/view/packaging-in-a-pandemic-sustainable-packaging-still-a-priority-during-covid-19. Published May 11, 2021. Accessed June 2021.
  4. Global sustainable packaging market report 2021: a full shift to paper and bioplastics is neither viable nor sustainable. Yahoo!Finance Web Site. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/global-sustainable-packaging-market-report-112300472.html. Published May 11, 2021. Accessed June 2021.