The Power Of Sustainable Packaging

Carina Legl

The summer barbecue season is here. And while you may be stressed about finding the right meat to grill, making sure the fries are crisp and the salad is fresh, there’s something else to be stressed about: the packaging the food came in.

While packaging is used to protect your meat, fries, and salad, its volume sales contributes to unsustainable use of natural resources and environmental waste. Flexible packaging, rigid plastics, metal, glass, paper-based containers, liquid cartons, and other packaging added up to a staggering 3.4 trillion units of global retail packaging in 2016. The entire food and beverage sphere accounted for 92% of retail packaging volume in the very same year.

global retail packaging volumes 2011-2019 estimated

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

With these types of sobering statistics, the impulse to go green is gaining momentum. Increasing environmental concerns impact consumers’ purchasing decisions. With the rise of green consumerism, brands have the responsibility to act on packaging sustainability.

Sustainable packaging makes business sense

Along the supply chain, from the end-product manufacturer, to the raw packaging materials and machinery supplier, to the packaging converter and distributor, all the way up to the retailer, all parties have costs to control and a corporate image to sustain. Integrating sustainability into brand strategy requires new business models built around packaging sustainability, incorporating waste management services, packaging standards, and certification providers.

With motivation and the will for going the extra mile to drive sustainable, circular packaging, retailers and consumer goods companies can raise their packaging-sustainability profile by taking on various initiatives.

Source: Euromonitor International, 2019

Turning necessity into opportunity

“Less packaging” needs to become “higher-performing packaging.” This starts at the product-design stage – avoiding packaging layers while still meeting the right level of product requirements, including preservation, usability, and safety.

Danone (Canada) claims to save 25% in packaging material with its re-launched Oikos and Activia Greek four-pack yogurts. The new packages are in smaller, more rigid, thin-wall containers with new lids. To avoid the need for an overwrap, the yogurt multi-pack is held together with a peel-off lid.

These types of efforts create various opportunities, including high brand image and value for money, while removing or reducing the generation of material and toxic waste. And smaller packs are more suitable for on-the-go consumption, with less product waste through portion control. Lighter packs also bring lower logistical costs.

Zero packaging and subscriptions

Alternative retailing concepts like subscription box services are gaining momentum. Consumers simply provide their tastes and preferences and schedule regular delivery of an assortment of tailor-made products: organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables alongside recipe ideas. This creates a real revenue stream for fresh food. Best practices by Hello Fresh or Gousto are alternatives to in-store grocery shopping, as both answer consumers’ quest for convenience and trends towards a personalized experience.

With health and wellness, fair-trade, and buying local gaining traction, the global rise of “zero-waste” grocery stores or “packaging-free” supermarkets support green consumers’ zero-waste life.

In Hong Kong, Live Zero leaves no shred of plastic wrap in sight. More of a wholesaler than a traditional grocery store, at Live Zero, goods are stored in clear, self-service bins or dispensers. From flour to olive oil to shampoo, consumers can pour as much as they need into containers that they bring from home.

In the United States, a New Yorker can reduce their environmental impact by reducing food and packaging waste via Precycle, the first store in New York that sells package-free produce, bulk food, and home goods.

In Sicily, Negozio Leggero permits consumers to pour their wine, spices, coffee, nuts, and more into their own containers.

In South Africa, SHOPZERO offers green options with little or zero packaging for Earth-conscious consumers. The United Kingdom’s The Clean Kilo is the country’s biggest zero-waste supermarket. In Germany, there’s Original Unverpackt; in Canada, Zero Waste Emporium; in France, mes courses EN VRAC; in Indonesia, Zero Waste Bali; and in Austria Lieber Ohne.

Waste management: The new normal

The quest for biodegradable and recyclable packaging helps the environment. Paper and cardboard are reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable. Cornstarch is biodegradable and ideal for take-away food. Bubble wrap made from recycled polythene is entirely degradable. Biodegradable plastic, now commonly used in plastic bags, starts to decompose when exposed to daylight.

In Germany, Aldi scrapped single-use bags. Aligned to its pledge to cut down on plastic packaging by 25% by 2024, its new compostable bags are made of biodegradable material and designed to be a 100% domestically compostable within a year.

Embed packaging sustainability into business strategy

The World Economic Forum restated the global need to shift to a circular economy. Retailers and their supply chain partners need to look at their overall activities and processes. With packaging presenting a part of the entire ecological footprint, it needs to change. Re-think and re-design – now.

To find out more about the options available to your organization for improved sustainability, have a look at the new IDC report “Design as a Critical Element of Digital Supply Chain.”

Attend the SAP EHS and Product Compliance Annual Conference to meet with product experts, content providers, implementation teams, and other customers to learn about the latest environment, health, and safety and product compliance solutions from SAP, share your experiences, and network with your peers.

This article originally appeared on Forbes SAP BrandVoice


Carina Legl

About Carina Legl

Carina Legl is a solution manager at the Retail Industry Business Unit at SAP and a PhD research student at Edinburgh Napier University. Carina guides retail and fashion ecosystems in their shared mission for a sustainable, circular economy as she combines theoretical understanding with best practice to drive strategic customer relations and C-level engagement.