The Sustainable Packaging Movement


Over the last few years, a revolution has been taking place in product packaging, as more companies have become concerned with attracting consumers and building a brand centered on “sustainability.” Genimex has seen a significant shift towards the use of sustainable packaging to fulfill marketplace needs and consumer demands, and we have helped numerous clients navigate this new industry trend. While this movement is highly aspirational, stressing clean, renewable, and minimal processes, it is also animated by fears of crowded landfills, ocean dumping, and deadly toxins poisoning our planet. Thus, many brands are changing to eliminate harmful, wasteful practices and to move towards planet-friendly processes.

Sustainable packaging refers to an assortment of materials and methods that reduce the environmental impact of producing, using, and discarding product packages. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a trademark project of GreenBlue Org., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to the sustainable use of materials in society, lists eight major criteria for sustainable packaging:

  • Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle.
  • Meets market criteria for performance and cost.
  • Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy.
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
  • Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices.
  • Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle.
  • Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.
  • Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles.

How this works in practice can be seen by examining some of the major concerns impacting the industry.

Global waste has become a headline issue, with industry viewed as the primary culprit. Companies who don’t want to be portrayed as the bad guys are taking steps to understand the role packaging waste plays, so they can take steps to mitigate it. First on the chopping block are plastics. Plastics are a human innovation, and the fact that they are lightweight, durable, decay-resistant, inexpensive, and moldable is what makes them attractive. However, plastic packaging is extremely wasteful. It negatively impacts the Earth’s ecosystems, and most plastic waste is sent to landfills. Plastic is not biodegradable, so even if it decays into microplastics, the artificial substance remains. Too often such products find their way into the oceans, endangering marine animals and the ocean’s ecosystem.

Numerous initiatives exist to fight ocean waste. For example, Pack Tech A/S, founded in 1946, is a European company specializing in developing and selling packaging solutions for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Noting that by the year 2050 the world’s oceans could be more plastic by weight than marine life, the company launched Ocean Waste Plastic, an initiative that seeks to clean our oceans and minimize the amount of virgin plastic industry must produce. OWP removes plastic from oceans and rivers and repurposes the material for a wide range of uses, including bottles, jars, tubes, and pump sprayers. OWP also promotes packaging made from REACH-compliant PCR materials, which are more environmentally friendly.

Another major concern is toxins in packaging. One major offender is called Bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical linked to endocrine disruptions, which cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans and wildlife. Although BPA has been removed from numerous consumer products, it is still used in some polycarbonate product packaging. Finding substitute materials is a major focus of the sustainable packaging movement.

The sustainable packaging movement is also on a mission to promote environmentally friendly processes, including renewable energy sources, during all phases of production.  Producing packaging from petroleum sources can be a messy, toxic process. Conventional processes use fossil fuels to drive machinery, producing carbon emissions and industrial waste. Companies outsourcing to developing nations are often leery about environmental standards, especially when it comes to hazardous waste disposal. For some companies, silicone, derived from sand in a process that is relatively clean and less wasteful, has become an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Companies are even adopting plant-based ink for printing to reduce reliance on harmful chemicals. When cleaning up the production process, no detail is too small.

SEEKING OUT NEW ALTERNATIVES TO PACKAGING

At Genimex, we have assisted several clients who are moving towards sustainability and are seeking new options for packaging. This movement is often driven by customers who demand change for their health and that of the planet. The company’s commitment to the environment can be a strong selling point, which can expand its customer base and build brand loyalty.

A common strategy has been to move a brand away from single-use plastics, or disposables, which are used only once before they are thrown away or, in some cases, recycled. Some examples include plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda, and water bottles, and food packaging. But many companies are seeking to craft packaging using natural materials or recycled materials.

Natural methods include tying items in place with a jute cord made from natural fibers or cushioning items with limited processed paper. But if you want to make a real commitment to natural packaging that is responsibly sourced, consult the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC is an international non-profit, multistakeholder organization established in 1993 that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC offers certifications for businesses dealing in products from pulp to lumber. The organization can help you find suppliers that act ethically in areas ranging from forest management and restoration to labor relations. FSC certified packaging materials bear the FSC label, which consumers worldwide recognize as a symbol of effective forest protection.

FROM RETAIL PACKAGING TO DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER

Today, shifts in the retail marketplace have opened doors for opportunity. Traditionally, product packaging has served a variety of purposes related to protection and promotion. To protect the product, it was common to use Styrofoam molds and peanuts within the package to prevent jostling and to cushion contents that prevented breakage. On the outside, the presentation was key, like pictures, descriptions, serving suggestions, instructions, and even safety warnings were prominently featured. Packaging was used to attract the attention of browsing shoppers. Thus, traditional packaging used materials such as clamshells, foil printing, films, acetate windows as ways of selling the product. Lastly, a company sought to grow the brand with trademarks, slogans, and color pallets connecting the product to the company’s image and other products in its line. However, changes in the marketplace have diminished the concerns listed above and have brought new considerations to the forefront.

Now, the direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel enables consumers to research products online without going to the store and handling the merchandise. Therefore, there is no need for packaging to present the product. This allows for the use of less attention-grabbing eco-friendly materials and printing methods. Many brands are creating unique and memorable brand identities that reinforce the company’s mission and values. Brands that had previously spent lots of money on retail packaging graphics, expensive printing techniques, and single-use materials have now adopted sustainable options and a thoughtful unboxing experience to reinforce their brand messaging.

IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUSTAINABILITY FOR YOUR BRAND PACKAGING

Many companies are setting ambitious goals for reducing their carbon footprints, and some want to leave no footprint at all. The Zero Waste International Alliance believes that if companies reach a dead end, it’s because of their linear thinking. They suggest that instead of planning for cradle-to-grave product life, companies should adopt a cradle-to-cradle model, where the end of one lifecycle leads seamlessly into the start of another. The organization believes it is possible to “design out” waste using a “closed-loop” system where materials are recycled and/or recovered.

Companies that are having success as they aggressively pursue the zero-waste goal include:

  • Elate Beauty — This cosmetic company uses bamboo packaging produced by a green-certified, fair-trade manufacturer. The bamboo is treated with water rather than chemicals. The company makes reusable compacts with refills packed in compostable seed paper.
  • Georganics — Some companies are going as far as to change the form of conventional products to reduce packaging. This company makes toothpaste tablets packed in a reusable glass container. The tablets dissolve in your mouth to make foam with no tube to dispose of.
  • Cleancult — This cleaning brand is all about real ingredients and zero-waste packaging. They are redefining packaging by using 100 percent recycled packaging made in the USA, carbon-neutral shipments, and natural, biodegradable formulas.
  • Kari Gran — This skincare line places its products in Miron glass, which is 100 recyclable and blocks visible light, eliminating the need for preservatives.
  • Pela Case — a Canadian-based company that makes 100 percent eco-friendly phone cases.

It is important for brands today to choose eco-conscious materials and cleaner manufacturing methods for their packaging. The result is materials that are easy to recycle, safe for individuals and the environment, and are often made from recycled materials.

If you are a brand looking to reduce your carbon footprint, consider these ways:

  • Ingredients — Focus on raw 100 percent recycled or raw materials
  • Product process — Look at minimizing the production process, supply chain, and energy usage
  • Reusability — Create a circular economy around packaging, extending its lifecycle and usability

Sustainable packaging solutions now come in a variety of forms, including:

For Branding Purposes

  • Paper (limited processed paper)
  • Jute Cord
  • Natural dyes and inks
  • Reusable containers (glass, metal)
  • Lightweight packaging

Packing Materials

  • Cardboard
  • Natural labels and closures, and water-based adhesives
  • Plant Based Peanut chips
  • Plant Based Foam

Most importantly, do some research and tap into the various organizations supporting the movement. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition and Forest Stewardship Council are great resources to understand the topic of sustainability.

GENIMEX HAS HELPED MANY BRANDS SHIFT TO SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING SOLUTIONS

Over many decades, Genimex has worked with a plethora of brands ranging from startups, midsize to Fortune 500 companies. Genimex works with many brands covering all kinds of product categories including kitchenware, housewares, cookware, outdoor, baby, personal care, wellness, and many more. In recent years, we have observed a reoccurring theme among clients who want to develop eco-friendly, sustainable brands, both in the actual product makeup and its packaging. We have seen a marked increase in the number of DTC brands seeking sustainable options. A major driver is a change in consumer behavior which has become more eco-conscious and aware of companies’ reputations for environmental stewardship. Companies wanting to cultivate brand loyalty amongst eco-conscious consumers need to make sustainability a higher priority. Sustainability does not seem to just be an option now, but an imperative.

Gone are the days of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, where companies would use their packaging to stake out their turf. Elaborate designs, employing fancy graphics along with shiny foils and coatings, were to store shelves what “curb appeal” is in the real estate sector. DTC brands do not need or want all that excess. They have adopted a minimalist approach to packaging which decreases their carbon footprint and increases recyclability.

Importantly, the shift to sustainability allows clients to redirect resources. Money saved on extravagant packaging techniques is now available for eco-friendly, packaging methods and materials, as well as research and development on other sustainability measures.

Genimex has enjoyed success in helping our clients achieve their sustainable packaging goals. One success story involves a client producing kitchenware. Unaware of sustainable packaging methods, the client was considering traditional foam for the inner packing. We offered paper alternatives that complimented their overall strategy and mission.  Now, they look to us as a resource for other verticals within their product line where they can employ sustainable packaging options. As this trend continues, we shall be assisting additional clients who are making the move towards sustainability and expanding the range of solutions we can offer.