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Sustainable Packaging Trends for 2021

Despite significantly increased usage of single-use plastics during the COVID-19 pandemic, packaging sustainability remains a priority for brands across all industries. While consumer caution has been a cause for many individuals to deprioritize sustainable habits, brands did not retreat from their sustainability goals in 2020, and this year is on track to be one in which packaging continues to make strides toward a more sustainable future.

A handful of approaches have emerged as sustainable packaging trends for 2021:

Chemical Recycling for Plastics

As chemical recycling methods and technologies for plastics continue to improve, the practice is gaining proponents. Expanded chemical recycling efforts are included in the British Plastics Federation’s recent “Recycling Roadmap,” which charts a course to the U.K. recycle 3.5 times more plastic than it currently does by 2030. As the amount of single-use plastics discarded by consumers continues to grow, chemical recycling may help stem the tide of plastics that end up in landfills, or worse, in oceans and other waterways.

In many areas, the demand for recycling surpasses the local market’s ability to process the plastic through mechanical means, which drives demand for alternative means of recycling.  Additionally, the narrow range of plastics that can be recycled by traditional means and the limited number of uses for recycled plastics mean it is unlikely that mechanical recycling will catch up to the problem.

To make use of the large volume of post-consumer plastics generated each year, recycling facilities will need to use a variety of chemical processes to supplement traditional mechanical recycling. Research teams are already working on chemical recycling methods for a wider range of materials, including polystyrene, which will greatly reduce the amount plastic that winds up in landfills or as litter.

E-commerce Sustainability

E-commerce shipments – and the packaging that comes with it – have been on a steady rise in recent years. That trend continued in 2018, with 91% of Americans receiving packages at their home this holiday season according to Ranpak’s First Annual E-Commerce and Packaging Trends Survey. While recent e-commerce statistics may be boosted by consumers cautious to shop in crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, they may retain those online shopping habits once things return to normal. Regardless, this sharp and continued rise in e-commerce puts a spotlight in efforts to make shippers and primary packaging more sustainable.

Brands riding the wave of increased e-commerce sales are eager to boost their sustainable practices, both in response to consumer demand for environmentally friendly products and because sustainable packaging is often good for the bottom line. There are a variety of approaches brands can use to improve the sustainability of e-commerce packaging, including designing packaging with materials that are easy for consumers to recycle. Rightsizing e-commerce packages and optimizing the amount of padding/dunnage included within the package drive sustainability and cost savings on two fronts, both by reducing the cost of materials and reducing size and weight, which improves fuel efficiency during shipping.

Growth in Reusable Packaging

While recyclable and compostable materials play a key role in steering packaging away from landfills, they won’t completely solve our waste issues. Following the path blazed by TerraCycle’s Loop program, which expanded nation-wide in 2020, companies such as LimeLoop, Algramo, RePack and any of the are taking their own approach to growing adoption of reusable packaging. The market for reusable packaging was valued at $30.5 billion in 2019, and a 2020 report from Grand View Research projects it will grow by more than 5% by 2027. While some were concerned that growth may take a hit because of consumer caution during the pandemic, indications showed continued growth through the early months of the crisis, with Loop reporting its sales nearly doubled between March and April.

It’s not just startups springing up to create reusable packaging, major brands are jumping on board to incorporate reusables. Mars, Inc.’s  Sustainable Packaging Plan centers around a commitment to switch to 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, including testing 10 reusable packaging programs. Albertsons Plastics and Packaging Pledge includes encouraging customers to use reusable bags, some of which include material from recycled single use shopping bags, and using reusable containers behind the scenes throughout its supply chain.

Whether you’re years into your sustainability journey or looking for sustainable packaging solutions to help your brand get started, the Adept Packaging team has the experience and know-how to help you map out your next steps. Whether it’s sustainable strategy, ideation or implementation, our team is stacked with professionals that can help you transform your packaging. We will help you optimize not only the sustainability of your packaging but reduce costs as well. If you’re ready to incorporate sustainable packaging solutions that drive bottom line savings, get in touch.

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Elements of a Successful Reusable Packaging Program

The topic of reusable packaging programs has been widely discussed in recent years, but in practice, efforts have barely scratched the surface of its true potential. Executed properly, reusable packaging provides benefits ranging from increased sustainability and improved productivity to increased product quality and, perhaps most importantly, cost savings. Well-integrated reusable packaging programs help industries optimize the use of critical resources and minimize the waste associated with traditional packaging methods.

Applications for Reusables

Many packaging elements throughout the supply chain can be converted from single-use materials to reusables. Everyday items used in the manufacturing, packaging and distribution of goods, including durable handheld and bulk containers, pallets, shipping racks and dunnage, are often made for single-use or limited-use applications, but brand owners can find a lot of value in converting them to reusable items.

Reusable packaging can be used for shipping both inbound goods such as raw materials and outbound finished goods. While they are in the manufacturing facility, goods can be transported from one department or stage of the manufacturing process to another in durable packaging that lasts for many cycles before it needs to be replaced. Recyclable materials can be returned in reusable containers and replacement parts and other after-market goods can be distributed in reusable packaging that customers return for repeated use.

Planning for Reusability

The first step to a successful reusable packaging program is a thoroughly researched and well thought out plan. Brand owners need to solicit input from customers to find the best opportunities to incorporate reusable packaging downstream. Thorough analysis of current packaging systems provides opportunities to identify ways in which reusables will generate cost savings, and a well-researched list of suppliers will reveal sources to produce the items and materials you’ll need to implement a reusable packaging process throughout the supply chain.

Designing Reusable Solutions

While the planning stage provides an important overview of the process used to convert to reusable packaging materials, packaging engineers and sourcing experts need to adhere to a diligent design process to create a successful program. The new system must be designed for consistency with existing standards, such as pallet size, as well as take into account logistic needs. Equally as important, the new reusable system must provide protection for components that is on par with or better than traditional packaging to earn buy-in from stakeholders. Perhaps most importantly, reusable solutions must integrate seamlessly with the customer’s supply chain for the program to succeed.

While those considerations are integral to buy-in from external stakeholders, design needs to account for additional considerations for internal stakeholders to understand reusables’ value. A successful program must balance durability with weight and easy of handling to control costs and ensure reusable solutions last long enough to generate savings. The new system must comply with health & safety standards and free up space that was previously used to store traditional packaging components for productive use. To prevent loss, an integrate a tracking system that monitors the location of reusable packaging as it moves through the supply chain can be incorporated. This allows for creation of a plan for storing the physical elements of the reusable program at each stop along the supply chain.

Prototyping and Testing

Because implementing reusable packaging involves an overhaul of so many pieces of your packaging process, it is important to make sure every element integrates seamlessly within the system before implementation. For this reason, a thorough testing process involving prototypes of each physical element is integral to the process. Many of the same suppliers identified during the planning stages can be leveraged to produce prototypes.

When it comes to package testing, there are a variety of options to consider. Consulting engineers and other high-level technical experts with knowledge of the product and its distribution provides valuable input to narrow down the list of standards to use for packaging tests. Testing standards that apply to reusable packaging include:

  • ISTA-3A: Packaged-Products for Parcel Delivery Shipment
  • ISTA-3B: Packaged-Products for Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Shipment
  • ASTM D7386-16: Single Pack Performance Test
  • ASTM D4169-09: Performance Testing of Shipping Containers and Systems
  • FedEx 6A: Packaging Testing Under 150 Lbs.

Integration

Once the planning, design, and testing are completed and approved, a well-executed integration process will ensure the reusable packaging program gets off to a successful start, which is important for the longevity of the program. Proper introduction of the new reusable solution is also valuable to ensure that everyone who will handle the reusable packaging understands the new system. This will encourage correct use of the system, so that reusable items can circulate properly and return to their starting point after they are used.

Completing the transition from single-use packaging solutions to a true reusable packaging program can be a complicated process requiring a high level of input from technical experts. For brand owners who lack the resources or the manpower to complete the transition, Adept Packaging can help. Our team of Loop-certified packaging engineers have guided many brands through the transition. Our global network of suppliers enables our engineers to design, develop and qualify innovative reusable packaging solutions. Additionally, our sustainability team collaborates with our value optimization team to analyze opportunities for cost savings via transitioning to reusable packaging. They build the plans, design the details, manage the prototyping and testing process, and oversee integration to provide a smooth transition to a reusable packaging program that will save on costs and increase a brand’s sustainability efforts.

If you’re interested in talking to our experts, contact us! We’d love to hear from you.