The concept of sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the packaging industry for both environmental and economic reasons

by Alex Cosper on November 11, 2022

The concept of sustainability is becoming increasingly important in the packaging industry for both environmental and economic reasons. The production and consumption process leads to excessive waste until it's turned into a circular pattern that includes recycling. Here's a look at scientific evidence on how consumers respond to sustainable design in food packaging.

Circular Pattern of Green Packaging Design

Packaging designers aiming for sustainability are focusing on making packaging safer for consumers and the environment. Using the ">" symbol to represent the term "then," here's a look at the ideal production process that yields sustainability:

Make > Use > Reuse > Remake > Recycle > Make

This circular process is called Reduction Design. It's a repeating process that aims to reduce waste and pollution through reuse, repurposing and recycling. A key part of this strategy involves reducing the volume of the package. Other strategic elements include simplified production and careful selection of safe, lightweight, degradable packaging materials. Additionally, emphasis is placed on reducing energy use and waste in both production and transportation.

Another sustainable solution is the Reuse Design. In this scenario, new products and components are developed out of old products, using similar functions. In some cases the new products may have a completely different function from the original item. This model considers the two ways old items can be reused via planned reuse or unplanned reuse.

The Recycling Design model takes the proactive step of making a product easy for recyclers to reuse. A major factor for reducing waste includes evaluating the scarcity and difficulty in extracting raw materials from the environment. Other criteria in waste reduction design include the recovery cost and supply chain channel for raw materials.

Examining the Ecological Cycle

The reason sustainability is becoming embedded in today's production and packaging designs is because manufacturers increasingly seek to go greener, plus regulations are tightening. Not only are governments around the world pushing for more sustainable manufacturing and packaging processes, producers themselves can improve their financial condition by reducing waste. An ecological cycle is similar to an economic cycle in the sense it contains an introduction, growth period and maturity stage, followed by depletion of resources.

Studying how ecological and economic concerns overlap is a useful framework for packaging designers to explore. The volume of waste generated from food products grows significantly each year due to limited shelf life. Since food is a one-time product often with short-term expiration dates, the ideal packaging strategy is to make the best use of all materials. Waste prevention now relies greatly on the planned reuse of packaging.

It turns out from environmental studies that 59 percent of global white pollution involves packaging. Compare that with 8 percent for electronic equipment called e-waste or 5 percent for construction and demolition. Trash that piles up at a landfill can leak dangerous chemicals back into the ground. Luckily, almost all materials can be recycled, but materials with exposure to toxic substances require special treatment.

Why Metal Packaging is Eco-friendly

Metal packaging generally has high recycling value since it's made of a single material that has economic value. If the material is a metal alloy, meaning made out of a mix of metals, it's still easy to recycle. Waste buyers are also interested in collecting glass or plastic bottles, cardboard and packaging cartons. Both plastic and paper are commonly used as  sustainable lightweight packaging materials of liquid foods.

Trading Cost for Profit

One of the goals of any business should be to minimize costs as a way of maximizing profits. Reducing the cost of production by 20 to 30 percent makes it possible to increase profits by 30 to 40 percent. Ecological package design fits nicely into this equation. Even if sales volume does not increase, the manufacturer can still see greater profit by cutting waste and sourcing recycled materials.

Research by Zhiming Uyan at Bengbu University in China points to green packaging as a way to cut costs and to extend the value of materials via recycling. A specific study that revealed 86 pecent consumers under age 45 are willing to pay more for greener packaging was released by Trivium Packaging in 2022. The Amsterdam-based researcher further found that 57 percent of consumers were less likely to purchase a product if it appeared to have environmentally-harmful packaging.

According to Straits Research, green packaging is expected to grow 7.5 percent to $409 billion by 2030. So it's important not to think of sustainability as a fad that will eventually fade.


Navigation toward sustainability is not going away for manufacturers. In order to stay competitive in the 21st century, manufacturers will need green packaging as more and more consumers become aware of environmental safety. Green packaging will ultimately help free industries from the high costs of pollution, with an opportunity to boost profits.



[1] Application of Green Ecological Design in Food Packaging Design (2022 ), by Zhiming Yuan

Topics: Sustainability

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