The future of sustainable packaging is really quite simple, the difficult part is getting brands and companies to adhere and commit to doing it to create a better future. There are two future sustainable packaging routes that companies can go to, the first is to simply use less and the second is to provide reusable packaging. It is easy to see that one solution is easier than the other and should be used as a steppingstone for companies as they transform into supplying a reusable packaging model for their products. One of the biggest environmental concerns is the overconsumption of plastic, and the biggest way to make a difference is to get businesses on board by changing how they supply goods to customers. Having a circular economy is the biggest way that we can reduce the climate tragedy that is bound to happen way sooner than later. To achieve a circular economy, businesses need to understand and think about the full impact of what they do and how they package their items, from where the resources come from, to where they go after they serve their purpose.
A great steppingstone to start a circular economy is by reducing packaging. Many companies have one or two sizes of standard boxes for shipping on top of the box the product comes in, and they end up being quite wasteful, in a few different ways. A lot of times the items are much smaller than the box, so the box is taking up more room where other items could have gone to reduce the carbon output for that delivery. And not only is there an excess of carbon that is released into the air when this happens but also the box ends up being wasted after they serve their short purpose, when it is thrown away or even recycled because recycling is based on profit, leaving only so many items to be recycled before they end up in the landfill. Most companies will also fill boxes with Styrofoam peanuts, or bubble and plastic wrap so the items don’t move with the extra room in the box, these items were created to be wasted as once someone opens the box, its usage time is up and it will be thrown away. By getting boxes that fit the products more snuggly, then we are able to ship more items at a time, reduce carbon emissions, and get rid of the unnecessary plastic and Styrofoam that are put into the boxes.
Another way to reduce packaging waste is by moving to more sustainable packaging, for example, eliminating plastic windows in boxes (seen a lot in pasta boxes) and switching to only cardboard packaging. Many people will throw boxes that include this plastic window into the recycling, which then contaminates the recycling, and the items can no longer be recycled and will instead be sent to the landfill, all because that small window was not recyclable.
The best way that companies can help create a circular economy is by creating reusable packaging. There are a few ways that this can be done, one is by making it so that the consumer can reuse the packaging and the second is so that packaging can be sent back to the company so they can wash and repurpose it to be sent again.
An example of a company that already has packaging that can be reused at the consumer level, is the vegan yogurt brand Culina. They sell their product in a glass jar that has a screw-top lid that can be washed and reused. This brand has also previously sold its product in terracotta pots so that it would be reused as a planter. They have done a wonderful job advertising and promoting the reuse of their jars throughout social media and their website so that people are aware of how they can reuse the jars. An example of a company that has packaging that is sent back and refilled is Plaine Products. They sell their products, which consist of shampoo, conditioner, and other care products, in aluminum containers, and once you use up that product you can request a shipping label where you then mail back the bottle, and they send you a new product. The company then washes the bottles in industrial washers to be cleaned and sanitized, then is refilled to be sent back out to customers. With everyone’s first purchase, they are sent a pump top for getting the product out, and every time they finish with the bottle, they keep the top to put on a new bottle and send back the aluminum bottle part.
It is becoming a lot more common for companies to have reusable packaging that holds multiple uses, which is wonderful for the consumer and the environment. However, it needs to be done more often for all companies so we can reduce our waste even more. Reusable and minimal packaging is the key to a sustainable and clean future that isn’t overflowing with plastic.
Essay by: Cecelia Darter
Hempstead High School