Consumers are increasingly seeking sustainable packaging solutions. It’s become extremely clear that environmentally conscious packaging has moved far beyond a ‘trend’ or marketing buzz, it’s now a fundamental consumer expectation that businesses cannot afford to ignore.
Repeatedly, consumer studies show that consumers are selecting products and packaging that aligns with their own core beliefs and ideals and are willing to meet a higher price point for packaging that contributes to sustainability initiatives.
The latest surveys from consultancy firm McKinsey back this up, with 5 out of 10 polled consumers willing to pay a premium for sustainable packaging. The demand is there, and it’s only set to accelerate.
“There are numerous regulations and legislations that impact the packaging industry. At present, a lot of the ‘newer’ items of legislation, as well as those on the horizon, centre around aspects of sustainability. In particular, circularity that conserves precious natural resources, is a key area of focus,” comments Simon Buswell, Director at Eco Flexibles.
“Examples that brand owners are currently grappling with include the UK Green Claims Code, which sets stricter guidelines on how businesses can (and more importantly cannot) externally communicate their sustainability performance, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which makes brands and packaging businesses responsible for how packaging waste is managed, rather than the consumer or local councils.”
The most significant shift lies in ‘simplifying’ the wider topic of sustainability, boosting clarity and transparency, and creating clear actions and behaviours for consumers. As a result, circular economy principles remain a dominant trend in the wider field of sustainability.
The focus is on reducing waste, reusing materials, and ensuring recyclability, and that’s what new packaging designs are prioritising. At the heart of the change, consumers are becoming more informed and demanding when it comes to sustainability in business, and this is driving exciting innovation and change in the industry.
“Eco Flexibles is making its name as the go-to partner in developing next-generation flexible packaging, designed for a circular economy,” adds Buswell.
“We help brands move away from traditional mixed-plastic flexible packaging designs, which are typically almost impossible to separate and recover into their component materials, so for the most part remain non-recyclable. Instead, we create lightweight, fully recyclable monopolymer plastic and paper flexible packaging solutions.
“Through fantastic innovation in packaging materials, we are able to provide equivalent performance to incumbent overly complex designs, including barrier performance, in a recyclable single material. To make the switch easy, we work closely with brands to redesign their packaging, handling all aspects from design, to testing, accreditation and delivery.”
Eco Flexibles works closely with brands in the food, snack and FMCG spaces, as well as retailers and packers across Europe, Canada and the US.
The firm’s goal is to help these customers transition from incumbent mixed plastic to recyclable alternatives, to turn packaging into an active contributor to brand-wide sustainability initiatives. Eco Flexibles prides itself on being a true end-to-end partner, able to guide and lead its partners through this process.
Christopher Morgan, Global Sales Director at Filtrona Tapes, comments: “Health and sustainability aren’t going anywhere, and along with price, they remain some of consumers’ primary concerns.
“There was always a risk that with a cost-of-living crisis and widespread perceptions that green living is expensive, the public would see the trade-off between saving money and going green as inevitable.
“Crucially, it has highlighted that saving money and saving the planet do not have to be mutually exclusive. We don’t need to prioritise one over the other. A green lifestyle can benefit both our pockets and our planet.” As food and drink inflation rates rise higher than headline figures and prices continue to climb, it’s no surprise hard-up shoppers are worried about the cost of their groceries.
Over a third of people are being more careful with their food budget, and increased concerns around price have reduced indulgent or non-essential purchases. The question on the lips of many is how they present themselves as a credible solution to help shoppers navigate the squeeze on their spending whilst catering for the conscious consumer.
“Discussions on packaging design must begin with assessing the audience in question. What drives them at the point of purchase? Who influences their decisions? And what can retailers do to grab their attention? The answer can be found in packaging,” adds Morgan.
The demand for sustainability in packaging is clear; it has fast become an expectation and staying relevant means authentically aligning with today’s consumers’ more responsible, eco-friendly values and creating good-looking packaging. However, the willingness of consumers to pay for more sustainable solutions is not. Only one-third said they would be willing to pay more for products with sustainable packaging, with two-thirds saying no or it would depend on the price.
Shoppers want to do the right thing, and brands can make this as easy as possible by highlighting sustainability credentials clearly and effectively. Sustainability should remain a priority in a high-inflation environment by taking a smarter approach to design.
Increasing consumer passion for the environment coupled with evolving legislation is driving innovation in sustainable packaging. Companies say that increasing use of recycled plastic packaging, using recyclable materials, and using less overall material will help their products stand out and remain competitive among a more environmentally conscious consumer base.
There are, however, the added indirect costs of doing business required to verify sustainability claims, with testing, certification, and reporting, all now needed to demonstrate compliance.
“Packaging producers want to be good global citizens as well as respond to customers and consumer requirements. As packaging producers, we are continuing to challenge our material selections and ensure the appropriate characteristics to ensure performance and sustainability,” says Morgan.
“Ultimately, the plastic levy and associated plastic taxes aim to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated, increase the amount that can be recycled, and improve recycling infrastructure. However, the varied approaches to implementing the levy throughout Europe may mean it does not have the desired impact on the secondary plastic market and recycling infrastructure. The lack of harmonisation may impact the plastics deemed recyclable, the aggregation and trading of sorted plastics products across Europe, and the acceptance of plastics waste at recycling plants to produce high-value products.”
As a tape producer, Filtrona Tapes’ products are usually applied to another piece of packaging to enable more positive end-consumer experiences for example creating easier, frustration free opening.
The company’s ECO Range tear tape solution Supastrip® PCR was optimised to support efforts to progress sustainable packaging solutions. Launched in 2020, two years ahead of the UK tax’s introduction, not only does it help brands overcome technical and regulatory challenges to increase the volume of recycled content used in films and other plastic formats it continues to deliver an improved opening experience for the user.
Jake Kirk, Kite Packaging Managing Partner, comments: “As packaging is the first point of contact between brands and consumers, it is critical in reflecting a business’s position on sustainability. As a result of this, many businesses have been transitioning to eco-friendly packaging to align with their commitment to environmental responsibility and consumer demands.”
The Plastic Packaging Tax, which was introduced in April 2022, has had a major influence on the packaging industry. It encourages the use of plastic products containing recycled content and applies to packaging which does not contain at least 30% recycled content. Businesses have been opting for packaging with recycled materials to keep their tax obligation to a minimum during tough economic times. As a result, there has been a big focus on manufacturing packaging which at least contains 30% recycled content in the industry.
A ban on certain single use plastics, including cutlery, trays, polystyrene cups and more, in the takeaway industry came into effect in October 2023 which will see an increase in the use of other disposable utensils in coming months.
“Growing concerns about environmental sustainability will drive the popularity of compostable packaging as it reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill or incinerators, contributing to improved waste management. However, we need to get the right infrastructure into place before this can happen, as well as educating people on how to compost correctly,” adds Kirk.
Kite’s best-known products are single and double wall boxes. The company stocks these in many sizes as their versatility lends well to shipping all kinds of goods, perfect for vendors with big product portfolios such as the grocery industry. Other core products include packaging tapes and stretch wrap, such as 5×5 nano pallet wrap and dispenser. This exclusive product reduces stretch wrap consumption by up to 60% whilst lowering health and safety risks when compared to other hand-operated systems.
Kite has been expanding its existing eco-friendly ranges, including single and double wall boxes, and enviro-boxes. Further to this, it has also added to its postal categories, including large letter postal boxes and e-commerce boxes, and its shredded papers in the gift packaging range have also been expanded.
The company recently made its app, designed to make browsing, buying and reordering packaging more convenient and accessible, available to all of its customers where previously only those with a credit account could access it. Features include a quick barcode scanner which yields results within seconds, a personalised products section unique to each customer, and the ability to add multiple profiles on their account as required to suit their business needs. The recent update supports Google and Apple Pay for swift, seamless transactions, allowing users to pay with their preferred method.
Employee share-ownership gives Kite a unique culture and attitude unattainable by any other packaging wholesaler, playing a major role in its success. The company is invested in its customers, supporting their sustainability goals through services such as free pallet wrap audits to reduce plastic use; its people, providing training and skill development at every level; the environment, supplying eco-friendly packaging to businesses across the UK as part of a circular economy.
“Here at Kite we live by three simple pieces of advice for any venture and they are: be the first, the best, or the only. Ideally be all three,” says Kirk.
Simon Dix, MD at Vetroplas, comments: “The cost-of-living crisis may have some impact, but I don’t think it will stop the overall trend for sustainable packaging. We continue to see growing demand from brands for greener packaging, including use of recycled material. We are optimistic about a steady recovery later this year and into 2024.
“The Plastic Packaging Tax has had a significant impact. Our European manufacturing partners, like many, have been working for years to broaden their ranges offering an element of sustainability, be it recycled content, plastic derived from sugar cane extract, mono materials etc. These elements are at the forefront of any new range designs.”
Vetroplas is now able to offer many cosmetic glass bottles with a high percentage of recycled content whilst maintaining a premium, clear finish. The company is able to produce many of its most popular skincare glass bottles with 90% recycled glass content and a clear finish.
A new, single polymer PP cosmetics dropper is to be launched this autumn.
Additionally, Vetroplas has a wide range of aluminium bottles with standard screw neck finishes and recycled content. Aluminium is already infinitely recyclable but the company can now make its bottles with up to 100% recycled aluminium without affecting performance.
“Of all the options available we are seeing the strongest demand is now consistently for recycled content. We are seeing this across the board: plastic, glass and aluminium,” says Dix.
Vetroplas’ best-known products and services are cosmetic glass and aluminium bottles for toiletries, household and drinks. The company is known for being able to supply a finished pack with full decoration and, often, with a closure.
Its customers include the major contract manufacturers in the UK plus brand owners.
The product types include cosmetics, skin care, personal care, household cleaning products and aluminium bottles for drinks.
“Together with our factory partners we continue to strive for packaging which is less impactful on the environment: weight reduction, recycled materials, refillable solutions etc,” adds Dix. “We are trying to make information about our ranges more accessible. For example, our most sustainable ranges of glass and plastic have now been collated into one catalogue and website.”
A single polymer PP all plastic cosmetic dropper – cap, button and dip tube, is to be launched this autumn.
Vetroplas is now offering a high quality spray frosting finish on its glass bottles and jars as a more sustainable alternative to acid etching.
In order to mitigate the compromises involved with selecting greener packaging, Vetroplas also offers a higher grade of recycled plastic called Prime. This is the result of a higher selection process of recycled raw material. The benefits include fewer inclusions, a lower intensity smell and a more vibrant finish when coloured.
Marc Chiron, Sales, Marketing & Innovation Director, Packaging Division at DS Smith, comments: “Consumers are increasingly expecting to see sustainable packaging solutions. One of our recent ground-breaking product innovations was for Eat Happy sushi specialists.”
DS Smith partnered to develop fully recyclable sushi trays for shops and chillers. These are a fully recyclable sustainable solution for replacing Eat Happy’s plastic ‘food on the go’ sushi trays. The tray and the lid of the new packaging are made from natural and renewable raw materials using corrugated cardboard and the solutions are designed to be water and grease-repellent to protect and preserve the sushi product inside.
Earlier this year DS Smith announced the findings of an e-commerce report revealing that a quarter of online shoppers would stop ordering from a company if they experienced too much unnecessary packaging, and overall consumers indicated a strong preference for sustainable and recyclable packaging.
“Aside from this data, we know that sustainable packaging is vital if we are to move into a more circular economy,” adds Chiron. We need to innovate sustainable packaging and show what is possible.”
The EU is close to agreeing new rules around packaging and packaging waste for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR). There are some controversial amendments including the risk of billions of pieces of plastic being added to the 91% of that which already remain unrecycled. DS Smith has developed a circular model that uses only 100% paper-based packaging and has worked with the world’s largest brands to find innovative ways to replace plastic in supply chains with recyclable alternatives.
“We are seeing Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies reassessing and restructuring entire supply chains,” adds Chiron. “We are seeing smaller disruptor brands partnering or collaborating with larger brands and businesses to find innovative sustainable solutions and particularly in the area of alternative fibres and R&D into materials that replace problem plastics. One of the areas that DS Smith is leading on, is packaging design.
We design for sustainability and 100% recyclability from inception. We look at ways to reduce bulk which can positively impact on transportation reducing CO2 emissions. We also look at supply chains, in order to keep products safe, and reusability options.”
One recent innovation which gained a lot of attention was DS Smith Lift Up. This was a partnership with Coca-Cola HBC Austria and Krones as a mechanisation partner, where plastic handles were replaced with “Lift Up” cardboard-based packaging for 1.5 litre PET soft drink multi-packs with a cardboard based outer packaging. The innovation looks good in the supermarket but is also designed to be easier to carry than the plastic components before with the potential to reduce around two hundred tonnes of plastic each year.
Another innovation DS Smith DD Wrap was innovated as a multi-category Shelf Ready Packaging (SRP) solution that can be designed and customised for a variety of products with resource and waste reduction at the heart of design from inception. DS Smith also improved product presentation with single display and removed the front perforations to enhance the shopper experience.