ABOUT SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING: PACKAGING FOR THE FUTURE

Always more frequently, people are used to hear about “sustainable packaging”, “green packaging” and “circular packaging”: a series of concepts directly associated with the idea of “future packaging”, which from a consumers’ perspective should be increasingly functional, responsible and environmentally friendly.

But what are exactly the characteristics that packaging must have in order to be “sustainable” to all intents? To explain this, it’s important to consider several aspects that we will discuss deeper in detail in this article, please go on reading!

FROM PRODUCT PROTECTION TO ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION: THE PACKAGING FUNCTIONS

Normally, packaging plays a crucial role in the product protection process: its task is to preserve its own content, preserving the organoleptic properties of foodstuffs (taste, aroma, freshness, texture…) or protecting it during its journey: from production, through shelf-display, until consumption.

In recent times, packaging has taken on a second and much more important role in product promotion. A well-designed packaging – both in form and content – must be able to catch attention, attract consumers, stimulate their interest or desire.

According to Kevin Lane Keller, Professor of Marketing and international leader in the study of brands, branding and strategic brand Management, “Packaging is one of most valuable tool in today’s marketing, necessitating more detail analysis of its elements and an impact of those elements on consumers buying behavior”. Consumers are attracted by packaging materials and design elements to the extent that a good packaging design creates positive feelings about the brand itself. It is noticeable how important the function of packaging promotion is, which over the years has become essential in the brand and product’s communication. When talking about marketing, packaging has become such important, that it has been added to the famous “5Ps” of the modern marketing mix (following product, price, promotion and place).

But that’s not all! Nowadays packaging assumes an ethic role too and it’s called to answer to new issues related to environmental, social and economic sustainability: hence it must be eco-friendly, which means designed considering the quality of raw materials that compose it plus the environmental impact that they will have on our planet.

INNOVATIVE RAW MATERIALS FOR A SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING

Nowadays, packaging innovation is increasingly inspired to Circular Economy. Designing a sustainable, green packaging means rethinking supply chains with the aim of reducing social and environmental impact, but especially adopting responsible and circular eco-design standards in the design process. It is estimated that 80% of packaging’s green footprint is precisely defined in this step.

One of the main innovations in the development of eco-packaging consists of the use of raw materials coming from renewable and biodegradable sources. Among these, not only paper and cardboard play a central role: from bio-based raw materials of plant origin, such as bio-plastics to nano-materials, the goal is to achieve the realization of a “circular”, recyclable or compostable product, effective as a concrete alternative to traditional plastics and able to support the development of a bio-economy model.

THE ROLE OF PACKAGING: FROM WASTE TO RESOURCE?

Packaging is often considered as the environment’s worst enemy because it becomes waste immediately after use.

Nowadays manufacturers put a great effort into researching and studying innovative solutions in order to reduce the consumption of plastic and the environmental impact of packaging at its end-of-life: the ultimate goal is to turn packaging from waste into a useful resource for environmental protection.

Sustainability is now a crucial driver in influencing consumers’ purchase choices, and it’s because of this that an increasing number of companies are investing in R&D, raising the level of innovation technology, with the aim of making packaging more and more eco-friendly. The packaging is made “easier to recycle” thanks to the progressive reduction of thicknesses and the use of paper and biopolymers as first-choice materials.  Packaging eco-design has the purpose to study innovative solutions able to protect the wellbeing of the planet while guaranteeing the same physical and mechanical performances of traditional packaging.

THE ECO-DESIGN OF SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING

Sustainable packaging is designed to create the least possible environmental impact:

  1. Sustainable because made of “natural” materials (recyclable, compostable and biodegradable)
  2. Sustainable because “respectful” for the environment, designed to reduce the CO2 emissions and to optimize the overall environmental performances
  3. Sustainable because “functional”: limiting the weight and volume of the packaging to the minimum necessary, but maintaining the safety and hygiene level for consumer’s protection.
  4. Sustainable because “educational”, easy to dispose of and able to properly inform consumers.
  5. Sustainable because “farsighted” and designed to have a “second life” after use.

Hence, the eco-friendly packaging not only has to be conceived and manufactured through sustainable processes and materials, according to a design which considers its end-of-life, but it also has to inform the consumer about the correct disposal methods in order to guarantee a correct separate waste collection.

THE ECO-FRIENDLY PACKAGING FOR THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Packaging is eco-friendly if it’s inspired by the fundamentals of Circular Economy, defined by the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation such as “an economy which is able to regenerate itself”.

Therefore, the Circular Economy is an economic system planned for reusing materials in the next production phases e.g. by preferring recycling and minimizing waste and the environmental impact of products placed on the market. The purpose of this model is to efficiently manage the collection of packaging after their use, processing them so that they can be reused or recycled several times.

HOW TO PROMOTE PACKAGING’S SUSTAINABILITY?

Packaging has the power to completely change the product image, even the most traditional one, transmitting the brand’s values and the product’s advantages.

To communicate and attract consumer, a good packaging must be original and recognizable, innovative but always practice, immediate and clear. Besides the traditional legal information (ingredients, consumption and storage instructions), the so-called “environmental labels” provide useful and comprehensible information about their disposal.

It’s increasingly common the use of symbols, icons and logos for helping consumers to recognize the packaging materials, to highlight the environmental performances and to suggest how to properly manage the packaging at its end-of-life, for a proper and responsible disposal. It’s the costumer who requires it… go on reading!

CONSUMERS ARE INCREASINGLY CAREFUL TO ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT AND “GREEN” ORIENTED

More and more European consumers are more likely to purchase products in a recyclable and biodegradable packaging.

About 41% of consumers report that packaging is a major key element to pay attention when considering brand reputation and awareness.

However, politics still is the most powerful tool to influence a sustainable behavior among consumers and companies. The 94% of Italian consumers wish for the implementation of a law which makes obligatory the indication of the eco-sustainability rate of a package.

The majority of Italian consumers would approve the introduction of a tax on non-recyclable materials, to promote the adoption of eco-friendly packaging solutions. The increased awareness and the even more growing interest of consumers show how much the issue of sustainability is felt globally today.

EXAMPLES OF INNOVATIVE SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING

There are many successful “case-histories” and examples of sustainable packaging on the market. Generally talking, the guide line is that of “Reduce, reuse, recycle”: the aim is to reduce waste, by giving recycled materials a second life, or by suggesting a new way of use.

Furthermore, from a circular perspective, the most innovative examples of sustainable “circular” packaging are represented by compostable and biodegradable solutions which take advantage of the most advanced scientific technologies. Thanks to the transformation of plant-related raw materials, it is possible to obtain bioplastics and coatings which are able to maintain the same performances of traditional while preserving the environment from plastic pollution. 

Nowadays, bioplastics account for about the 1% of European plastics production (around 300 million tons/year), but with the development of more sophisticated materials and applications it is expected to grow faster.

SUCCESSFUL “GREEN-PACKAGING” IDEAS ON THE MARKET

Developing innovative solutions for packaging is an increasing trend in a world that is more and more sensitive to “sustainable” topics.

Some of the greatest international names which have adopted this strategy are Coca-Cola, P&G, Nestlè, PepsiCo, Mars e UPS, are struggling to achieve ambitious sustainable goals through important R&D investments.

Today , there are many examples of sustainable food packaging , or even innovative food packaging, which has been placed on the market (recyclable and/or compostable and made using renewable materials). Here’s some of them:

  1. Melinda BIO has launched a certified packaging as 100% compostable: this project has been developed thanks to the collaboration with Novamont, and it has been certified as OK Compost Industrial according to standard UNI EN 13432: it is a bioplastic film that, together with tray, marks and labels makes a totally compostable package for fresh apples. It can be disposed of in the organic waste – and therefore it can be turned into compost, a natural fertilizer for agricultural field.
  •  San Carlo’s “Veggie Good” chips are healthy and good for the environment: San Carlo has strengthened the production lines to launch a new line of snacks that properly fits the health sector and responds to the market demand of “free form” and vegan-friendly references. Besides being healthy and tasty, Veggie Good Chips are environmentally friendly, thanks to the innovative sustainable packaging made of recyclable paper – FSC® certified as it comes from responsibly managed forests – and the produced in factories using electricity from renewable sources.
  • Formapaper®: a thermoformable bottom-tray for cold cuts and fresh products made of recyclable paper.  These special trays are able to maintain the freshness and unique taste of high-quality cold cuts, plus they are made of recyclable paper, FSC® certified, from forests where the strictest environmental, ecological and social standards are respected. The innovative packaging is produced by using up to 70% less plastic than traditional trays and it can be get back in separate paper collection.

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