Is the packaging industry getting greener?

Being in the label and packaging industry, environmental impact and sustainability have always sat in my mind. In fact, it was one of my five packaging trend predictions last year.

And now, with growing pressure from customers, wholesalers and supply chains, it would be foolish any business to ignore the need to offer sustainable or eco-friendly product options in the future. Last year, businesses, stakeholders and consumers were doing a lot of talking about sustainability. This year, it’s all about action and it’s becoming a global movement.

Take the European Union, for example. To combat plastic waste, it recently proposed a bloc-wide ban on single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery and cotton buds while urging the collection of most plastic drinks bottles by 2025. India and Indonesia are investing in biodegradable alternatives to plastic made from maize, corn and yuca, after banning, taxing or restricting the use of plastic bags. Here in Australia, supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles have jumped on the bandwagon by banning free plastic bags from July this year.

To be a millennial is to be sustainable

The desire for sustainability is a generational thing too. In my experience, millennial clients prefer to do business with corporations and brands with social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods, and ethical business standards. Therefore, sustainability doesn’t just mean eco-friendly products – it’s the ethos of businesses or the core of why they exist.

Big business has taken note. For example, several multinational companies that represent more than 6 million tonnes of plastic packaging per year have recently committed to using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier. Some of these companies include Mars, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Unilever. Ultimately, it will be sustainability that will define competitive advantage. If you’re a brand that wants to achieve a successful sustainability program, it’s important to ensure that you implement sustainable practices, technology, and culture in every step of your supply chain.

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Millennials are more inclined to align themselves with socially conscious brands.

But aren’t we already recycling?

Technically, most packaging can be recycled; however, it does come down to whether or not there is a suitable market for the materials to be on-sold to when the product is finally used. Whilst many of these materials can be sold and recycled, one of the most complex parts of packaging is the fact that most are made up of multiple materials, which determines how easy it can be broken down. It also comes down to the type of packaging that businesses are using. Flexible packaging, for example, uses fewer resources and less energy than other forms of packaging. This is because it reduces packaging, material and transport costs and can also be constructed on the spot from roll materials at the filling location, further minimising transportation of ready-formed empty packaging.

At Luminar, our flexible stand up pouches product-to-package ratio is 35 times greater than that of glass bottles with metal caps, and 21 times greater than the aluminium can. It uses 50% less energy to produce and 60% less plastic to make compared to rigid bottles.

Over the next decade, I predict that sustainable packaging options will be the industry norm. Synthetic materials are simply going to get phased out. Not a week goes by without a news piece on friendly chemistry developments and natural products. In a perfect world, our goal at Luminar would be to eventually change our packaging material from synthetic to recyclable, plant-based or natural.

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Flexible packaging produces 60% less plastic than rigid bottles.

Bring on biodegradable

So what’s the replacement option for plastics? I’m predicting a surge in biodegradable materials. There’s currently a buzz around biodegradable bioplastics, such as the increasingly popular polylactic acid (PLA). PLA has the capacity to break down naturally in the environment or, alternatively, can be composted. Why is this so unique? At the moment, the vast majority of plastic material will never break down, so we’re reliant on recycling. However, as it currently stands, these biodegradable bioplastics can only break down in a high-temperature industrial composting facility, not in a home-based compost bin or on the side of the road. Whilst we do have a long way to go, plant-based packaging materials are slowly coming to the forefront.

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I envision the day where our waste could actually contribute to our ecosystem.

Change starts with industry leaders

Right now, sustainable packaging is a premium product at a premium price. Many manufacturers see this as an opportunity to increase margins by up to 30%. Rather than charging this premium, I believe that it’s our job as manufacturers to absorb some of the costs so that sustainable options can be more accessible. Australia is a few years behind the United States and Europe across the industry and we have quite a way to go before we catch up.

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Industry leaders have a responsibility to drive change and normalise sustainable practice in business.

Get sustainable

I’m extremely passionate about introducing more sustainable and eco-friendly packaging options to Luminar and I always aim to be ahead of the game when it comes to packaging trends. In the next few weeks, I’m heading to the Global Pouch Forum in Miami, US. I’m keen to investigate what the US market is doing when it comes to sustainability. In the meantime, if you’re thinking sustainability when to comes to your packaging options, please contact us.