With single-use plastic bans gaining momentum around the world, companies are innovating in materials and packaging, finding sustainable alternatives in a variety of sometimes surprising ways.
The End of Single-Use Plastics?
Single-use plastics are items made of fossil fuels that are specifically designed to be disposed of after use. In many cases, the packaging is used for mere minutes, but they persist in the environment for generations. We currently produce 150 million tons of plastic waste from single-use items every year. It’s a habit we must break, for the future of the world.
Across the globe, governments are taking action. In 2020, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, and China have announced bans on single-use plastics. In the US, eight states have banned single-use plastics. South Australia and Canada have banned single-use plastic straws and cutlery. Importantly, these initiatives are universally backed by popular support amongst voters and consumers. It’s clear that any company that wants to compete in the global marketplace has to find alternatives, and many multinational companies like McDonalds and IKEA have already announced transitions to sustainable packaging.
Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics: a Dazzling Array
There is an incredible range of ways that plastics can be reduced, in every phase of the product lifecycle. Here are just some of the alternatives:
- Recyclable or durable packaging: consumers are opting for durable goods instead of disposable, buying their own metal straws, insulated coffee cups, and cleaning cloths. They are looking for durable alternatives to disposable goods, and looking for packaging that can easily be reused (like glass bottles), or recycled (like paper boxes).
- Sustainable and biodegradable packaging: companies are looking for new ways to use a huge range of biodegradable materials in their packaging, exploring new ways to use wood, bamboo, paper, and plant fibers.
- Low- or no-packaging products: a growing variety of retailers are appealing directly to eco-conscious consumers by offering products with no packaging at all. Consumers are invited to provide their own bottles, cans, bags, and containers, and refill them by weight or volume.
Sustainable packaging can be created by developing sustainable or recycled raw materials, reducing plastic and the carbon footprint in the supply chain, or by emphasizing reusability and building a circular economy around packaging.
Developing the Packaging of Tomorrow
Today, material scientists are working hand-in-hand with marketers and designers to develop packaging that appeals to consumers without harming the planets. This transition also represents a great opportunity for increased value engineering: companies can use packaging engineers to evaluate every aspect of their packaging, rethinking their packaging from the ground up, finding ways to reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, and even save money. Some of the leading innovators in packaging include:
- Packhelp. Polish startup Packhelp helps design and create sustainable packaging, but their services go beyond that. The company also collaborates with clients, solving logistics problems, using next-gen automation and robotics, and streamlining the packaging supply chain.
- Pujolasos. This luxury packaging company has spent decades designing high-end packaging for cosmetics and premium liquors, and has now innovated new materials and processes that maintain the quality their customers require, with reduced environmental impact. Pujolasos is working with natural materials like wood and cork, designed with incredible precision to create a luxury experience without the plastic.
- Paperfoam. Paperfoam focuses on creating a sustainable alternative to moldable plastics. Their injection-molded material is made of starch and natural fibers, and can be used just like conventional injection-molding, but with sustainable materials at a fraction of the weight. It’s a sustainable alternative for companies who use molded plastics to package and ship products, and preserves the customer’s unboxing experience.
How to Become Part of the Plastic-Free Future
Companies have a growing number of ways to learn more and actively participate in the future of packaging. Here are just a few:
- CEFLEX. The Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) initiative is a collaboration between more than 160 of Europe’s leading brands, committed to developing a circular packaging economy in Europe by 2025. They aim to develop reprocessing infrastructure and end-of-life technologies for all FMCG goods in Europe.
- Sustainable Packaging Coalition. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition focuses on developing sustainable packaging throughout the supply chain, developing tools, services, and applications that help companies adopt sustainable packaging.
- Forest Stewardship Council. One of the most important roles in sustainability is ensuring that plant-based materials are sourced responsibly. The Forest Stewardship Council has developed standards and certifications to verify responsible sourcing, and supports companies in everything from packaging to marketing.
In laboratories, landscapes, and workshops around the world, a new generation of scientists and designers are working together to envision a world without plastic packaging. If you want to be part of this exciting and important industry, contact grapefrute to help build a better future for everyone.