A wide range of innovations in sustainable packaging is pleasing both consumers and companies ready to reap the benefits of this rapidly growing market.
Few things illustrate our country's packaging problem as acutely as the post-Christmas cleanup. New electronics toys, of course, can be blamed for a good part of the clutter.
Heaps of boxes and plastic packs -- often impossibly difficult to open unless attacked by sturdy pliers -- are stuffed into trash bags and tossed out, while many of us ask ourselves: Wouldn't we be better off with a lot less packaging?
As Staples showed with its now heralded Smart-Size Packaging Program, investing in sustainable packaging solutions can make sense on many levels. In Staples's case, the company realized it needed to address the number one concern of its consumers: excessive packaging. (Those same consumers also sent a clear message to Staples earlier this year -- they prefer to shop online, forcing the company to plan the closing of 12 percent of its North American stores by the end of next year.)
Weary of being flooded in oversized corrugated and filling material as a result of a simple online order, customers welcomed the launch of the program. The company itself also reaped notable benefits: It cut in half the storage space needed for corrugated and reduced its carbon footprint for the 15 converted facilities by 8,300 metric tons (31,000 trees) based solely on the drop in corrugated usage.
Such results have not gone unnoticed. A recent report by Smithers Pira shows the global market for sustainable packaging is projected to reach $244 billion by 2018. Driving the increased pace of innovation is, as noted, consumer demand for environmentally friendly solutions but also corporate commitment to a better environment, reduced costs, and improved profits, as well as local and federal regulations.
Products showcased at the Sustainability in Packaging 2014 conference earlier this year displayed a wide range of breakthrough features we can count on seeing more of in the near future. It's not all about reducing the use of corrugated or customizing the size of packages; their composition is just as important -- and evolving as we speak.
Monomers sourced from renewable feedstock such as sugar cane and corn may be used to manufacture plastics, using the same equipment as for existing processes. Also offering a lot of promise is the incorporation of new materials into flexible films to improve product quality and extend shelf life.
Let's look at a few concepts that won top honors at the Flexible Packaging Achievement Awards and Innovation Showcase 2014:
- The LEHAR Snack Food Pouch claimed the silver award for sustainability and environmental achievement. Made of the world's first 8 micron BOPP film, suitable for printing and laminating, it achieves a 23 percent source reduction.
- Cascadian Farm Cereal Liner, another silver award winner, is a plant-based cereal liner which offers an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic liners.
- Lego Hero Factory Shape, Stand-Up Pouch With Reclose, a gold award winner, features a reusable package and 80 percent less packaging weight. It delivers significant reductions in water and energy use, carbon footprint, and solid waste.
- The Bonfire Wine Standup Pouch, described as the choice for "next-generation wine drinkers," not only won the gold medal for packaging excellence, its dramatically smaller carbon footprint, compared to regular bottles, also earned the pouch a silver award in the sustainability category.
All in all, as long as innovations in sustainable packaging can stay cost-efficient -- benefiting both producers and consumers -- they are likely to gradually edge out conventional approaches. Do you think electronics OEMs are going to jump on board?