Just what will the future’s sustainable packaging look like? What methods are there outside the mantra of, reduce, reuse, recycle and what makes packaging truly sustainable? Today there are numerous examples of sustainable packaging which have successfully reduced the associated carbon footprint. These early adopters serve as the prototypes of a new industry on the horizon filled with intuitive methods to ensure that our waste is not an issue for our future generations. We will explore some of the present examples of sustainable packaging throughout this essay and analyze some of the trends surrounding future sustainable packaging.
Thankfully, there are many progressive companies either developing their own sustainable packaging program or are actively implementing sustainable packaging. While these companies are driven by a genuine concern for the environment it should be noted that these programs also serve to improve brand reputation and appeal to growing demand for sustainable goods. An insightful article by Jabil Packaging Solutions that takes a closer look at these companies and theorizes what the future of sustainable packaging might look like. Many manufactures are aiming to end the chain of take, make, and waste through some form of sustainable packaging, thus shifting to a more circular economy. This shift towards a circular economy would see an increase in the usefulness of each product, achieving peak value when in use, and recover or recycle the product at the end of its service life. Unfortunately, as with any issue of sustainability, the shift towards more sustainable packaging comes with its share of complexities and diverse sets of variables. A major characteristic of sustainable packaging is ensuring the used material is recyclable. However, recycling actually represents one of the larger obstacles surrounding more sustainable packaging production. Currently there are limited numbers of recycling facilities and the associated technology has difficulty handling certain factors like mixed materials, complex components, and food contamination. Another problematic obstacle to the development of sustainable packaging is the related costs. These costs can be observed from the improvements of the manufacturing facilities to the shelf prices of the products themselves. According to the Jabil article while customers support of more sustainable products are on the rise many companies who have made the shift struggle to get customers to accept the higher price tags.
While there may be multiple obstacles to greater implementation of sustainable packaging there are still positive trends in many industries paving the way to a more sustainable future. Many organizations are addressing the current issue of plastics eventually ending up in the ocean. This effort is being accomplished usually by simple swapping from plastic to alternative materials, like metal or glass, where available. A major trend that is growing in popularity across many industries is the concept of more biodegradable packaging. This concept of biodegradable over recyclable seems likely to represent the near future of sustainable packaging. Companies successfully avoid the use of plastic in their packaging and alternatively use materials like, mushrooms, eucalyptus, shrimp shells, palm, and coconut. This development style of biodegradable allows companies to avoid the restrictions of limited recycling facilities while simultaneously lowering their carbon footprint. This method of biodegradable packaging seems likely to be the bridge between eras, where it could be an effective alternative to plastics until global recycling facilities can more effectively address the environmental impact of plastics and other recyclables.
Overall, the shift away from the historic single use mentality to more sustainability-based packaging will be complicated. Additionally, the successful transition towards more sustainable packaging will take a significant amount of time with a lot dependent on the advancement of certain technologies. The future of sustainable packaging will require effective alterations and enhancements to manufacturing facilities, recycling facilities, polices, as well as may more industries. Thankfully, there are those companies who have initiated the world’s transition towards more sustainable packaging. With these companies that are ready to face the challenges associated with the overhaul necessary in conjunction with current advancements it is only a matter of time before the global economy is providing a clean and safe future for the planet.
Essay by: Ryan T Snyder
Arizona State University