Retailers

What’s Trending in Sustainable Packaging

eco-friendly packaging

From new regulations to more holistic views of sustainability, here are three top trends to watch in 2022.

1. Reuse and Refill

In response to consumer demand, zero-waste packaging is starting to gain momentum through innovative programs such as Loop, developed by Trenton, N.J.-based TerraCycle.

Loop partners with retailers to offer products in reusable packaging via in-store displays. Customers pay a small deposit on the container, which is fully refunded when it is returned to the store. Loop then cleans the packaging and reuses it. Products cost roughly the same as traditionally packaged items, and customers need not wash containers before returning them.

As the first U.S. grocery retailer to sign on with Loop, The Kroger Co. will begin offering more than 20 products this spring from brands such as Cascade, Gerber, Nature’s Path, Pantene and Kroger’s own Simple Truth brand. Participating stores include 25 Fred Meyer locations in the Portland, Ore., area.

“Customers are increasingly seeking out sustainable products and services that fit their lifestyle, and this collection makes it convenient,” said Lisa Zwack, head of sustainability for Kroger.

Some CPGs are also working with packaging suppliers to create their own reusable designs. Last summer, Dove introduced refillable deodorant packaged in a stainless steel case designed to last a lifetime. Refill packaging is made from 98% recycled plastic and contains 54% less plastic than its standard stick pack. By 2023, the brand plans to transition to refills made from 100% recycled plastic.

The rise of refill shops across the country is another indicator of increasing consumer interest in zero-waste packaging. These small, mainly independent stores allow shoppers to fill their own containers with non-packaged personal care items and household goods like shampoo and cleaning supplies.  

2. Sustainable Packaging Legislation

In 2021, the United States saw a significant increase in extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation bills at the state level—including 30 related to packaging, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association. The intention of the bills is to hold producers responsible for post-consumer management of the waste and recycling of their products—from paper goods to items such as utensils and plastic bags—rather than placing the burden on municipalities and consumers.

New EPR laws will likely lead brand owners to change their product designs to become more eco-friendly—which, critics say, may result in higher prices for the consumer.

Maine and Oregon passed EPR legislation last year, which will go into effect in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Bills vary by state, but both require packaged goods companies to join a producer responsibility organization and pay fees to help with EPR goals. Additional states have active bills, including California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington.

On the federal level, the National Bottle Bill aims to reduce production of single-use plastic packaging, create a nationwide bottle deposit program for beverage containers and introduce national EPR requirements.

“It’s important to consider the full life-cycle impact as companies make choices regarding which materials to use to advance carbon-footprint and broader sustainability goals.”

3. Low-Impact Packaging

Sustainable packaging isn’t only measured by its recyclability. Increasingly, companies are looking at the full picture when choosing packaging materials.

In True Packaging Sustainability: Understanding the Performance Trade-Offs, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. notes, “It’s important to consider the full life-cycle impact as companies make choices regarding which materials to use to advance carbon footprint and broader sustainability goals.”

While sustainable packaging efforts typically focus on a desire to decrease leakage into the environment, improve circularity and reduce carbon footprint, the report explained, the three elements are not always easily combined. For example, beverage containers such as aluminum soda cans rate high in recyclability but do not necessarily have a lower carbon impact than some other containers.

To help companies evaluate and compare different types of packaging, the Single-Use Material Decelerator—a team of foodservice companies, nonprofits and technical experts—has developed a free online tool accessible at Upscorecard.org.

Click here to return to the 2022 Sustainable Packaging Report

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