Getting Smart About Sustainable Packaging
At ThreeMain, we’re continually researching, discussing, and brainstorming new ways to put sustainability first (recyclable refill packages, anyone?). That’s why we were so excited to attend the Sustainability in Packaging Conference, put on by the Smithers Group, in Chicago last week.
We met with business leaders across industries - from packaging supply chain and consumer retail brands to e-commerce and brick and mortar - about ways to bring old, respected brands into the sustainability folds and talk about how new companies are changing the game with eco-forward business models.
We learned a lot last week, and we wanted to share five of our key takeaways from the conference so that business owners - big and small - could benefit from the experience.
5 Key Sustainability Packaging Takeaways That Can Help Your Business Grow
1) Is it Possible to Have a Packaging-Free Business?
What’s the best way for your brand to embrace sustainable packaging?
Don’t package your goods at all.
That’s what Lush Cosmetics, a handmade cosmetics and bath bomb behemoth company, is doing.
Most of Lush’s products come “naked,” i.e., without any packaging whatsoever. For their products that do require packaging (like face masks and shampoo) they use materials like aluminum or recycled paper and offer their customers incentives to bring them back for reuse.
Lush has balanced and restored the relationship between their customers, their business, and the environment by using as little packaging as possible.
2) The Myth of Plastic Pollution and Big Businesses
Usually, consumers believe that big businesses are the big culprits of the plastic pollution problem.
But while that’s true for some big businesses, there are others that are working hard to reduce their plastic impact and find plastic-free alternatives to package their products.
Example: Although people think of Starbucks as a top ten plastic polluter, the opposite is true. Starbucks gets some flack - rightly - for their plastic-lined paper cups, but they’re only responsible for 1% of the 600 billion plastic lined paper cups used each year.
Not such a big polluter after all, eh?
Even better, Starbucks has partnered with McDonald's and Closed Loop Partners on a project to find a plastic alternative for all of their containers over the next few years.
Big business: not always bad.
3) We Still Aren’t Recycling as Much as We Should
Despite small town initiatives that force residents to pay for trash pickup but offer free recycling, the popularity of Recycling Awareness Month, and brands using repurposed materials in their products, as a country we still aren’t recycling enough.
Over 105 million tons of recyclable materials are produced in the U.S. every year, but only 83 million tons of it is recycled.
That leaves 22 million tons of recyclable materials going into a landfill or the oceans every single year.
There are lots of reasons this is happening, but the biggest reason is that less than half of U.S. residents have the same level of access to recycling as they do trash removal, and even people who do recycle are only recycling half of what they could.
We can do better when it comes to recycling, and we need to.
Not sure how you can help your community get better at recycling? Visit the National Waste & Recycling Organization’s website for ideas on how to reuse and recycle.
4) Just Because it isn’t Plastic Doesn’t Make it Sustainable
When we hear those terms, we think that the product attached to them is eco-friendly, that it’s sustainable, and that it’s an eco-positive purchasing decision, but that isn’t always the case.
That’s because plastic isn’t the only material that can have a negative carbon footprint.
Wood pulp, biofilms, and similar products have been introduced the market as sustainable packaging alternatives to plastic. But while these products can reduce plastic, they can also introduce the use of chemicals to process fibers, which can produce VOC’s.
Although plastic and potentially single-use, some plastic films and pouches have a lower environmental impact than alternatives labeled as biodegradable or compostable.
5) Plastic Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon
Sustainability isn’t a problem we can tackle overnight.
As President Obama said, progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.
More and more companies are working towards the goal of becoming sustainable, but even more haven’t even started their sustainability journey, and they aren’t going to close up shop anytime soon.
We need to continue to support companies with sustainable business models with our time, dollars, and loyalty to influence the stragglers to make a change.
We can have a sustainable future, but we need to put in the work to get there.
A lot of companies are making strides with sustainable packaging, but we still have a long way to go.
Educating, innovating, and offering solutions are the best ways to disrupt the status quo, and we all need to push ourselves and the businesses to embrace that mission.
Want to learn more about what you can do to live more sustainably at home? Read Sustainable Living 101: What You Can do to Live Sustainably.