Consumers are becoming more concerned with brands’ sustainability efforts, particularly when it comes to packaging waste.
And with new laws soon to be introduced next year to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution, many companies will need to adapt their packaging to meet these new regulations.
As we mark the end of 2021, I explore the top sustainability packaging trends that I anticipate becoming big in 2022.
#1 Zero-waste packaging
Zero-waste has become a big trend in recent years, as more consumers grow increasingly concerned over their packaging waste. From the beauty industry to supermarkets, we’re seeing growing calls for more packaging-free options.
For some brands, going packaging-free has been hugely successful. Popular cosmetics and toiletries brand Lush has gained worldwide notoriety thanks to its innovative approach to sustainability and packaging.
However, the difficulty many brands face going packaging-free is how to protect their product.
There are practical considerations to be made – those with physical stores may be able to implement a bring-your-own-container imitative for certain products -but for those businesses that operate online, packaging-free solutions are far trickier to cater to.
Moreover, the efficiency of packaging-free initiatives for perishable goods, such as fresh fruit and veg, will largely depend on consumer behaviours. For example, businesses would need to rely on enough customers buying the product within a short window to use up stock before it goes past its shelf life.
Packaged fresh foods, on the other hand, have a much longer timeframe to be bought and eaten, reducing the chance of spoiled food waste and saving businesses money in the long term.
So, what other alternatives do businesses have for sustainable packaging options without compromising product integrity?
#2 Biodegradable plastic alternatives
A recent study has revealed global use of virgin plastic has peaked and is set to fall significantly by 2025, as big brands continue to use recycled plastic within their packaging.
However, we’re starting to see changes in public attitudes towards plastic consumption and waste, pushing many companies to re-evaluate their packaging design and experiment with innovative new packaging materials.
The world’s largest cosmetics company, L’Oreal, is one such brand that has begun to make waves when it comes to new packaging ideas. The beauty powerhouse recently created a new brand, SEED, with products made from entirely compostable or recyclable packaging – even a recycled corrugate paper bottle shell that won’t decompose in the shower.
Packaging designers can now choose from a wide range of plastic alternatives, including glass, card, pulp and even corn.
The sky’s the limit with new sustainable packaging solutions and we’re continually progressing in what we can create and use every year.
#3 Antimicrobial packaging
A new sustainable packaging solution that I anticipate will make waves in 2022 is antimicrobial packaging.
As consumers and businesses, we often fixate on the waste created by packaging. However, we must not neglect spoiled product waste within the scope of sustainability.
Antimicrobial packaging can help minimise product waste by working to prevent microbial growth, such as pathogens and mould, killing bacteria and extending the product life of perishable goods.
Estimated to reach a market value of $11.92 billion by 2024, this new packaging technology could have a number of applications, from food containers to coating cardboard parcels to prevent the spread of germs.
Some companies are working to adapt this technology further, even looking to make products effective against viruses like COVID-19.
Though promising, it’s important to note antimicrobial packaging is still a new technology that needs continued development to improve efficiency. Additionally, it is an expensive technology that could hinder a market shift and may discourage consumers should the cost of products reflect this.
#4 Flexible sachets
You’ll notice flexible packaging will become more common as brands begin to ditch traditional packaging materials of glass and plastic.
While the primary benefit of switching to flexible packaging for manufacturers is a reduced production cost, there are a multitude of environmental benefits too.
Since flexible packaging uses fewer rigid materials, the product becomes lighter and smaller, reducing material and production costs as well as making the product easier to transport with more product able to be transported at one time, lowering emissions in the process.
And since flexible packaging requires natural resources and energy to make, there are also reduced greenhouse gases during the production stage.
Consumers can enjoy the convenience of having a product that is lightweight and portable.
#5 Refill systems
There are a couple of ways retailers can tackle refillable packaging. Brands can sell the product in a reusable lifetime container which the customer can then refill at a refilling station. This is beneficial for those businesses already with brick-and-mortar stores in place to help drive customers into shops.
This method has proven successful for brands such as The Body Shop who earlier this year expanded its refill and recycle scheme to install refill stations in over 400 of its stores worldwide.
However, this method is best suited to brands with national branches that customers have easy access to. For those that rely on e-commerce or want to target a broader customer base than those within distance of a physical store, refill stations may not be the best approach.
Alternatively, companies may look to sell refill packs alongside their existing hero products.
Refill packs tend to use less plastic and typically have more value in each ml of product, allowing both business and customer to save money and help the environment without compromising on packaging design.
However, businesses will need to thoroughly consider how easily consumers will be able to source their refills, with a recent poll by Which revealing 29 percent of shoppers cite difficulty finding products as the primary reason they don’t buy refills.
#6 Educating consumers
Consumers are growing increasingly concerned about shopping with socially responsible brands. But often, just implementing sustainable policies is not enough to win over consumers.
83 percent of consumers believe that brands should invest in education about the importance of sustainability. This tells us that consumers are eager for companies to provide clear direction and support for sustainable issues.
Whether this is through incentives to bring used packaging back to shops for recycling initiatives or sharing information on how to dispose of their packaging waste properly, consumers are looking to brands to lead the way and take responsibility for their own policies.
Mick Clark is the Managing Director for WePack ltd. He is responsible for nurturing and growing sales in a diverse contract packaging market. He also oversees daily business operations and company wellbeing.