Sustainable Packaging Goes Mainstream

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?

18 comments on “Sustainable Packaging Goes Mainstream

  1. Williamson
    September 23, 2014

    Good article, retailers need to ensure they stay competitive in their shipping and delivery systems and meet consumer demand. I work for McGladrey and there's a very informative whitepaper on our website that readers of this article will be interested in “Count, manage and move: Warehouse inventory control strategies”@

  2. Ariella
    September 23, 2014

    The ultimate in sustainable packaging is edible, and I've seen rice paper packags for candies. Also Stoneyfield  partnered with WikiPearl to put its frozen yogurt in edible packaging. Still, people are not quite ready for that, which is why you'll see it still wrapped in platic in stores. I'd give you the link about it, but that wouldn't go up, so just Google the topic. 

  3. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    September 23, 2014

    Ariella, i've also seen water soluable packaging, which could present some issues (this was packing peanuts. A lot of this won't help the electronics industry but things that get packaging vendors thinking in new directions are good for everyone.

  4. itguyphil
    September 23, 2014


    Does the packaging taste good at least? And is there packaging for the packaging? I wouldn't want to eat what many others have handled.

  5. Eldredge
    September 23, 2014

    @Ariella – Perhaps edible packaging would work for interior separators. For exterior packaging – I won't  eat it if I don't know where it has been!

  6. Ariella
    September 23, 2014

    @pocharles I've wondered the same thing. I asked the woman working in a candy store about the edible rice paper packages on some of the candies. She said it tastes like rice. That doesn't sound particularly good but not really bad either. As for the sanitary issue, yes, I think that is what's preventing a lot of this from going mainstream — even though it is possible. We are only green up to the point of not changing our own lifestyle — to reference what Kennedy said at the climate change march in NYC.

  7. ahdand
    September 24, 2014

    @pocharle: Well that is a bit of a complex requirement. I don't think it will be easily met mate. 

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    September 24, 2014

    For on line deliveries , I have a suggestion to reduce the packaging.


    Can the orders in one area be clubbed and packaged in a sturdy one box – and then segregated at the delivery point with individula soft packaging and delivered to the customer. The outside box can be returned to the store for re use.


    This is a concept similar to the containers used on ships to deliver good . These conatainers conatin many a items individually packaged in much less costly packaging. The sturdyness of the conatiner makes the handling quite easy.


  9. itguyphil
    September 29, 2014


    The only argument I could think of is that people eat fruit & veggies without washing them soooo…

  10. itguyphil
    September 29, 2014


    It's like a zero-sum wrapper game!

  11. ahdand
    September 30, 2014

    @pocharle: Okay.. That sounds interesting indeed then. 

  12. ahdand
    September 30, 2014

    @pochrale: But still the applied chemicals will be there even you wash it. So its not good at all. 

  13. Ariella
    September 30, 2014

    @pocharle yes, but they really shouldn't. Many of them can carry residue from the fertilizers and pesticides used, and even organic produce was likely fertilized with manure. 

  14. ahdand
    September 30, 2014

    @Ariella: Yes I think they have made a wrong move here. 

  15. Ariella
    October 1, 2014

    @nimantha.d I really think it was primarily a marketing gimmick. Most people are not likely to eat the wrapper, but being able to claim to have the only edible wrapper around gets you attention, as well as brownie points for being green.

  16. itguyphil
    October 28, 2014


    To us. For those that are in the game, maybe not so much.

  17. itguyphil
    October 28, 2014


    There will be chemicals even what the wrapper's really good. That's due to the chemical makeup of the soil and all other natural components over time. It's all about minimizing exposure at this stage.

  18. itguyphil
    October 28, 2014


    I feel like that's the troubling part about it. Even when you try to be diligent, there's some component that's contaminated due to the common practices of the industry.

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