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Product packaging plays a role in nearly all purchasing consumers do. In 2016 the packaging market was valued at over USD 221 billion. The majority of this was packaging used for food and beverage, with over 75% of it being made of plastic [5]. Many consumers now know that plastic is generally a very unsustainable material because it has a high energy cost for production, takes a long time to degrade, and can be challenging to recycle. Even though plastic remains the most common material used in packaging, it’s percent of the total packaging market is slowly declining. This slow decline can be attributed to increased public awareness of its issues and increasing popularity of sustainable packaging.

Defining sustainable packaging can be tricky because it has to cover a variety of topics. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines sustainable packaging by looking at a package’s social, environmental, and economic impacts. To be sustainable on a social level packaging must be beneficial and safe to individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle. In regards to economics packaging must meet market criteria for performance and cost. To meet the environmental requirements the lifecycle of the packaging must be powered using renewable energy, produced with the optimized use of recycled/renewable materials, designed to minimize materials and energy, be produced using best practices, and be produced in a closed loop cycle [1,2]. This definition is broad by design, but does a good job of consolidating information from many different socioeconomic areas.

Plastics usually do not meet the requirements set forth in the above definition for a variety of reasons. Other materials are much more sustainable. Most forms of metal packaging can be produced to be sustainable. This is because they are easily recycled/reused and last for a long time. Paper can also be used to produce sustainable packaging. Paper is easy to repurpose and is used for a huge variety of things, making it very available. Both metal and paper are the two materials leading the sustainable market [1,7].

In the last few years consumers have begun to take note of the socioeconomic benefits of sustainable packaging. People have become more aware of climate change and environmental degradation, leading to more interest in preserving the environment. This has translated into a large push by companies to make their packaging more sustainable. Researchers have used data from past years to predict there will be a compound annual growth rate of 6.2% in the sustainable packaging market between 2014 and 2021 [3]. This increase is driven by consumer desire for sustainable packaging, which is often more expensive than unsustainable alternatives. This trend shows a possible shift away from the consumer desire of purchasing the cheapest option available [4].

Already a number of sustainably marketed forms of packaging have started to enter the market. Things like refillable metal bottles and biodegradable food packaging are becoming much more popular. Along with this, a steady increase in the amount of aluminum and tin packaging has been seen and the aluminum packaging market is expected to grow 20% by 2023. Metal packaging has been continually proving that it is sustainable when correctly managed [3,4].

On top of the common sustainable packaging materials we are used to there is a new variety slowly coming to the market. Biodegradable natural polymers and coatings have started to see use for perishable products. These coatings are designed with organic material that are often edible. One example is a membrane called Scoby, which is made of bacteria and yeast. The polymer is initially created using fermentation and left to grow over a period of a few weeks by feeding on agricultural waste. When finished it forms a thin layer that is used to protect perishable products from contact with oxygen [6]. This is just one of the many new types of biodegradable polymers being designed to replace plastic.

It is undeniable that there is consumer desire for sustainable forms of packaging The amount of metal, paper, and biodegradable polymers used in packaging have been steadily gaining on plastic usage over the last few years. Many companies are pushing to meet the customer interest and it is predicted that there will be a strong future market for sustainably designed packaging. This is great news for the environment and provides a new avenue for manufacturers of packed products.

Learn more about biodegradable and sustainable packaging.

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References

 [1]  “Sustainable Packaging: How do we Define and Measure it ? (2005)”, by Kees Sonneveld.

[2] ""Definition of Sustainable Packaging (2011) ",   by Kees Sonneveld.

[3] “Societal Factors Influencing Packaging.” Packaging Technology and Research (2016) ” , by Claire Koelsch Sand, .

[4] ”The Social Component of Sustainable Packaging(2009) ” , by Renee Wever and Erik Tempelman.

[5] ”Packaging waste statistics” (retrieved January 2019), by Eurostat.

[6] “Roza Janusz grows edible food packaging (2018) ” , by Gunseli Yalcinkaya.

[7] ”Environmental innovation in industrial packaging: a supply chain approach (2007) ” ,by K. Verghese & H. Lewis.

Topics: Sustainability, Biodegradable Packaging