Benefits of Sustainable Packaging
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Millennials and Generation Z make up the majority of people in America, and they are arguably the most eco-conscious demographic compared to generations before. Recyclability and sustainability aren’t just buzzwords anymore — they are increasing demands of consumers when it comes to packaging choices and purchases. That’s why it’s more important than ever for brand owners to understand the benefits of sustainable packaging.
Business News Daily reports that more than 80% of people surveyed said they felt it was “important or extremely important” for companies to design environmentally conscious products.
While climate change is of great debate globally, scientists at the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, Australia, estimated that a “near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” could take place in the next 30 years if the issue isn’t addressed. And, a recent survey from Accenture showed that “consumers have already started becoming more environmentally conscious with their purchases in an effort to do their part.”
What do consumers want?
Researchers surveyed 6,000 consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia about their purchasing and consumption habits of products packaged in different kinds of materials. Participants were also asked about how they recycled and reused those materials. An astounding 83% said it was “important or extremely important” that companies design products to be more environmentally friendly. Affordability and quality still ranked highly, so brands are tasked with finding ways to satisfy the increasing demand of all consumers’ wishes. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were “actively buying more environmentally friendly products than they did five years ago. Over 80% said they expected that number to grow in the next five
What exactly are sustainability and recyclability?
Consumers — especially millennials and Gen Z — are becoming more aware of how products are packaged than ever before, and their purchases are reflecting this point. There is an increased drive toward sustainable packaging, with an increase in consumers willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products and packaging.
Sustainable packaging defined includes packaging comprised of ecologically friendly materials with zero-waste options. Sustainability as a whole moves through the entire supply chain, so there are options for brands to jump in at any point to help. The Sustainable Packaging Alliance maintains four traits that make a package sustainable. It must be:
- Effective- Provides value by protecting the contents throughout the supply chain and supports informed and responsible consumption.
- Efficient- The packaging line and machinery used are designed to utilize materials as efficiently as possible throughout the product life cycle.
- Cyclic- The materials used to package are continuously cycled through natural or technical systems to minimize degradation or the use of upgrading additives.
- Safe- All parts of the packaging must not pose any risk to human health or the planet.
Additionally, materials should “come from recyclable, renewable sources,” that are not hazardous or contain carcinogens. Streamlining packaging and using a material that serves these criteria is key to a sustainable, green life cycle. Right now numbers of unsustainable packaging that doesn’t get recycled in America is around the 23% mark of total waste, so there is definite room for improvement for your brand!
How does America recycle?
How we receive, digest, recycle and compost items come down to how we work globally because recycling is a business. Someone has to opt for recycled products, and Mashable reports that Americans recycle nearly 87 million tons of waste each year. Everyone knows that recycled products go in the blue bins to be processed and remanufactured into new products, but what really needs to happen in the cycle remains somewhat of a mystery. Normally, recycled products are picked up by a corresponding state’s waste management corporation and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility for separation and packaging for further processing.
According to Mashable, recycling worked well because recycled waste was in high global demand. New restrictions from the Chinese government, request little contamination — think grease and cheese stuck to a pizza box — that would ruin the recycling process. In comparison to China, our reported contamination levels are at 25%, meaning that one in four items can’t be recycled due to extra food, grease stuck on the items and should be considered, trash, according to Waste Management.
China is asking for a whopping 0.3% demand for recycled goods, which adds to a supply-demand issue for their facilities. Compared to China, who has a supply-demand issue for recycling, America has a vast supply of items that can be recycled, but there is no demand for the recycled items to be repurposed, thus causing another issue since recycling items to be made into new products costs more money than traditional landfill dumping.
Benefits of recycling.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines several benefits to recycling in the traditional sense:
- It’s an important economic driver, creating jobs and tax revenue. The Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report found that, in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenue. This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of material recycled.
- It reduces waste sent to landfills and incinerators.
- It conserves natural resources like timber, water and minerals, and conversely, prevents pollution by reducing the need for new raw materials.
- It saves energy.
Roadblocks to success
Industrial Packaging reports that most Americans want to recycle, but they are confused as to what materials can be recycled, how and where. “Sustainability is no longer the future for packaging. It’s officially the present state and the foreseeable future in package design and corporate responsibility. Sustainable packaging is not only a better option for the environment but a great investment; especially for brands that are actively pursuing a positive image in the eyes of the consumer,” however, the company reports, that the entire supply chain does have high costs in some areas — a fact that is changing thanks to flexible packaging options and consumer education.
The EPA is working to educate further with the America Recycles Pledge from a commitment to collection action. EPA and its stakeholders have taken actions since November 2018 to address the challenges facing the U.S. recycling system. Action areas include:
- Promote Education and Outreach
- Enhance Materials Management Infrastructure
- Strengthen Secondary Material Markets
- Enhance Measurement
Why are businesses switching to flexible packaging?
Since consumers are more eco-conscious than ever before, adhering to that customer base will attract that demographic to your products. Additionally, using efficient designs and recycled materials helps cut costs. Working with suppliers who reduce the use of toxic chemicals or carcinogens can only help the planet, which is a feel-good benefit. Packaging Europe says that flexible plastic packaging is the fastest growing packaging segment, with global demand estimated to grow in the category.
New research from Smithers says that total sales for flexible packaging worldwide will reach $228 billion in 2019 and grow at an annual average rate of 3.4%, to $269 billion by 2024. Flexible packaging, according to Smithers, is the wave of the future with brand owners, who are making the switch from glass jars and metal cans for example, to flexible packaging.
The Flexible Packaging Association says that consumers are more likely to believe glass or corrugated packaging is more sustainable than flexible packaging. However, millennials present the “greatest opportunity for flexible packaging companies.” They are more likely than other generations to seek out sustainably packaged products and pay more for them.
Brands also benefit, according to Flexible Packaging. Flexible packaging is eco-friendly; convenient — some include spouts, zip locks and resealable seals; cost-efficient; lightweight; distributed safer; customizable; and, perhaps the benefit we love the most — innovative.
Prairie State Group is SQF certified and is an eco-friendly organization. Learn more about how we help brands become more sustainable through the entire packaging supply chain life cycle. Don’t forget to ask for a sample of our sustainable bar wrapper film!Get the data sheet here.