It might have started out small with some pushback against single-use plastic bags, but the demand for more environmentally friendly packaging is becoming a trend no one can ignore. MARISKA MORRIS investigates
Packaging often needs to be multifaceted. It must appeal to the customer purchasing the product, be durable and compact to make transportation easier and, most importantly, it has to be affordable. Plastic meets all these requirements. However, more customers are becoming concerned with the impact of plastic on the environment and are demanding environmentally friendly alternatives.
The backlash to plastic straws, that has seen many businesses substitute the product with bamboo or metal alternatives, is a prime example of the pressure put on businesses and the speed at which change within the industry is taking place. While plastic has been a main focus, there has been a backlash against packing materials in general with interesting results.
Online retailer Loop is repurposing the milkman strategy in which the retailer owns the packaging rather than the customer. The glass bottle in which milk was delivered some decades ago belonged to the diary and customers merely paid to have it refilled.
Similarly, Loop aims to provide its clients with their familiar products in reusable packaging delivered in a tote bag (as opposed to a cardboard box) with the client scheduling a convenient time for Loop to collect the packaging. The customer then has the option of refilling, or receiving their deposit back on the packaging.
The online retailer is working closely with manufacturers that are innovating in terms of their packaging. Pantene, a hair-product manufacturer, is designing refillable aluminium bottles for its products, for example.
Tom Szaky, CEO of Loop and recycling company TerraCycle, has an interesting reason behind switching to reusable products. In an interview with Vogue, Szaky notes: “Recycling is a solution to the system of waste, but not the root cause. It’s like taking Tylenol (paracetamol) every morning because you have a migraine. The Tylenol is a solution to the symptom, but you aren’t solving the reason you have a migraine.”
Some governments are also pushing back against traditional packaging materials. In the United States, New York, California and Hawaii have banned single-use plastic bags, while Maine has banned food containers made from polystyrene foam. Transport companies might soon have to align their businesses to the change in the packaging industry.
It might simply require switching from traditional plastic manufactured from fossil fuel to bioplastic, which is made from a variety of bio-based materials including food waste, or replacing cardboard boxes with renewable, reusable alternatives. While it might seem like an expensive investment, studies have shown there is potentially a great return on investment.
The 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report by Nielson estimated that 66 percent of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. This percentage is even higher among millennials, who are quickly becoming the dominant buying market. Biodegradable packing also has the potential to lower the carbon footprint of companies and appeal to more manufacturers.
As environmentally friendly consumption moves into the mainstream, it is nearly impossible for transport operators and manufacturers to ignore the impact of their product, packaging and transportation. However, it also offers businesses the opportunity to innovate and penetrate new markets.