Why are sustainable packaging materials in such high demand?

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor

July 1, 2015

3 Min Read
Why are sustainable packaging materials in such high demand?

Food and beverage brand owners are among the most voracious for new packaging material developments, even (especially?) when it comes to sustainability. Cost, product compatibility, shelf life, regulatory requirements and more still matter, of course. But the green lure seems to grow stronger with brand owners as more stock is added to the pool.

How can you take advantage of the plethora of new sustainable packaging materials available? Jennifer McCracken, director, sustainability, Global Innovations and Sustainability at HAVI Global Solutions, has some advice. She will be participating in the panel discussion “New Materials & Strategies to Cost-Efficiently Enhance Your Sustainability Plan” at the upcoming Global Food & Beverage Packaging Summit (July 7-8; Chicago). This is but one of more than two dozen sessions scheduled for this high-intensity conference. View the full agenda at fbpackaging.com. When you like what you see, you can register here.

McCracken gives us an exclusive preview of some insights she’ll be sharing at next week’s event.

Why are brand owners so interested in hearing about new sustainable packaging materials?

McCracken: New sustainable packaging materials are of growing interest to brand owners because consumers have an increased desire to make a difference in the world; however, not everyone has the time to do so as frequently or in the ways they would like. If a brand is able to help its consumers make a difference through their everyday purchases, the consumer is able to make a sustainable contribution without making changes to their schedule or spending more money. 

Brands also want their consumers to feel proud of the products they associate with and purchase. Purchasing sustainably packaged products allows consumers to feel good about themselves for making a difference.

What are some reservations that packaging developers have about more recent sustainable packaging materials? 

McCracken: When developers seek more sustainable packaging materials, cost and performance of the new materials are huge reservations, and something to consider. The item and packaging should be cost neutral and of equal quality to alternatives so the packaging is effective.

Another reservation developers may have about sustainable packing materials is whether or not the new materials are truly “sustainable.” Many renewable and sustainable materials rely on land resources, such as growing trees to produce paper, which can be managed sustainably or unsustainably. An extreme example of this would be if a rainforest is cleared to grow a sustainable material.

With newer materials, it can be especially difficult to obtain information about whether or not sustainable practices are in place throughout the production process. Similarly, newer materials may not be mature enough to receive sustainability certifications, so a company may not be able to rely on or confirm a third party validation of the material. This third party validation is something developers need to be reserved about.

Additionally, there are reservations with how a new material will interact with the existing infrastructure. Perhaps an innovative materials company has gone so far as to ensure there is an end market for their material, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the material will flow properly through a materials recovery facility (MRF), or even be recycled at all. This presents a series of hurdles for a new material manufacturer to address.  The manufacturers must demonstrate the material can be recycled and must communicate this information so the consumer can be informed and can properly dispose the material. 

What advice would you give—and why—to someone looking to switch from a conventional packaging material to something a bit more exotic that has a stronger sustainability message?

McCracken: My advice to someone who is looking to switch from a conventional material to something more exotic with a stronger sustainability message is to carefully consider your message before making a significant investment.

Your message needs to meet legal and regulatory standards, which typically means a lot of qualifying technical language, and also needs to resonate with your customers. To help guide you throughout this process, make sure you read the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides for a better understanding of what you can and cannot say.

It’s also helpful to use trusted third party logos, when possible, to support and validate your sustainability claim.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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