In the 21st century, GDP growth has come from less developed markets, as more consumers move to urban locations and subsequently adopting westernized lifestyles. This growth has boosted a demand for packaged goods, which worldwide has been accelerated by the e-commerce industry. The global population will expand, and especially in key emerging markets, like China and India, the rate of urbanization will continue to grow. Therefore this growth translates into increase consumer incomes for spending on consumer goods, eventually increase in packaged goods. Further, the rise in the number of single-person households leads to pushing demand for products packaged in smaller portion sizes. Therefore the plastic waste, and as a high-volume, single-use item plastic packaging, has come under particular scrutiny.

Let us explore the future of sustainable packaging on each of the Three R’s- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle of Waste Hierarchy:

1. Reduce: Of all the things in environment protection, Waste minimization is more important. The easiest way to reduce plastic waste is companies should stop giving people stuff that they don’t use. For instance, in lunch packets, it contains lots of packaging like packets of ketchup, plastic spoons, forks, and plates. To eliminate these unnecessary packets (ketchup, sugar), people can serve condiments in bulk. One bulk ketchup dispenser is equal to 359 ketchup packets, and one bulk sugar dispenser is equivalent to 120 packets. Also, It would be great if companies start saying, “We are not serving plastic bag unless you ask for it,” companies should not offer plastic bags, and they have to wait if somebody asks for it–this is the key. For Instance, Food delivery startups should provide a checkbox that says, “Spare me the napkins and plastic ware.” which we probably don’t need if they are coming to home or office. Further, Environmental analysts reported if companies offer plastic bags, 75% of customers will take it, but if the plastic bags are chargeable, only 16% of them take it. Thus these simple steps can save more than a million sets of plastic bags, plastic forks, spoons, packets, and napkins – all with a simple checkbox.

2. Reuse: Around the world, people buy million water bottles each minute; most of them will end in the ocean or landfill. These single-use plastics are the primary source of concern. Reusable water bottles can cut down plastic water bottles. Generally, we find water fountains are installed in airports and universities, but the majority of people avoid using it because of hygiene concerns. Instead, If every campus in the United States installs water filling machines, they can save up to 300 million bottles/year as per studies. Another way to reduce single-use plastics during meal-to-go is to use to reusable plastic containers. In one university, around 350,000 single-use plastic containers can be spared by using reusable plastic containers, and these containers can be returned just like library books when finished can be returned to a machine. A lot of universities and hospitals should adopt using reusable plastic containers, which can save tonnes of plastic wastage. Further, single-use plastics have a significant impact if used for packaging in household items like detergents, oil, make-up accessories, groceries, beverages. Companies should adopt steel containers that can be reusable all the time and should maintain a supply chain where these containers can be returned on time without hassle. During the initial period, upfront costs will be high, but in the long run, the costs will become lower. This process cannot be implemented in one day, but we can change the process little by little each year until they become the way we do things.

3. Recycle: Recently, a lot of emphases are going on segregating waste when we throw garbage in dustbin. The garbage bins are classified as “Compostable,” Recyclable,” Non-Recyclable.” Even a small non-recyclable plastic in the re-cyclable bin can be very difficult to recycle the components. Therefore, spreading awareness that people should not throw the garbage in the recyclable bin if they have the slightest doubt in segregating. Further, Companies should adopt nanotechnologies to create bio-degradable plastics for plastics that can not be avoided. For instance, pharmaceutical companies produce a lot of medical supplies that are wrapped in plastics; these plastics are non-avoidable. Therefore bio-degradable plastics made from graphene can be used in packaging.

To sum it up, Businesses should be held accountable by the government for their creation of plastic waste instead of asking consumers to avoid waste. Charges should be levied on companies when they emit carbon waste. Companies are treating the sky like a giant sewer. As long as companies are free to pollute, no one could stop it. If companies had to pay for the carbon they produce, It would encourage better behavior from them. Further companies can produce light-weight plastics. The light-weighting of packs is genuinely beneficial when it comes to considering the environmental impact of product transportation—the lighter each package, the lighter the load for transit, meaning less fuel—therefore taking less energy required to move the product from A to B, reducing the carbon footprint of the overall supply chain.

In particular, along with sustainable packaging, the future holds innovative packaging solutions:
1. Personalization: Consumers want to feel special like a product that has been specifically designed for them; packaging can help deliver this. To improve the consumer’s relationship with the packaging it is vital that packaging meets the needs of each consumer in every way possible. Personalization is key. For instance, packs can reflect key events within 24-48 hours of the event occurring and included personalized variable data such as messages, promotions, unique codes, and graphics, an ideal solution to keep up with political and sporting activities all over the world.
2. Vegetable-based packing: Eating a burger and eating the box too, this can be achieved by protein-based algae packing. Another example is in the Indian Juice shop, where people use watermelon outer shell, papaya outer shell, like a cup to serve juices to their customers. This example shows that even small businesses can opt for plastic-free cups.
3. Packaging that can connect to devices to inform consumers about further product ingredient information, provide reliable use-by-date data, deliver recipes, and complementary product ideas. At the same time, retailers can track packs in transit today. Packaging can be expected to interact with consumers on a new level, increase technological capability in terms of monitoring product freshness and nutritional value as well as deliver anti-counterfeiting capability and much more. Retailers being able to show shoppers how outfits look and enabling packs to carry information elsewhere, AR presents a significant after-sale opportunity. It can show the consumer the ‘what’s next’; how to experience the product to its full potential, whether it be a walk through the product’s journey when it’s disposed of properly, or to highlight its second-use options and capabilities – the opportunities are endless.

Essay by: Mamidi Bala Venkata Suraj
Arizona State University

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