Consumers of today expect more from brands than in the past. We could easily argue that the digital age has empowered the consumer to demand more from those with whom they spend their money, but more than that, there’s the matter of the environment. Not only is the consumer of today more demanding than ever, they are more informed than at any time in the past (thanks, in no small part, to the internet). And environmental concerns are top of the agenda.

One of the key areas of focus for consumers concerned with the environment is packaging. Sustainable materials in packaging curry favour with consumers who figure that the more eco-friendly packaging is, the more ‘human’ and trustworthy the brand.

What are eco-friendly packaging materials?

There is a wide variety of ways in which packaging can be environmentally friendly, and often in ways that benefit the manufacturer as much as the planet. Flexible packaging, for example, which is the second largest segment of the packaging industry, not only reduces the amount of packaging required per product unit, it also saves money for the manufacturer. Less packaging, of course, means less financial outlay per unit, but it also means that significantly more units can be transported at one time. This reduces fuel consumption and time-to-market, with benefits for all parties (environment included).

What kind of packaging materials are biodegradable?

The ultimate form of eco-friendly packaging is that which is biodegradable, the most sustainable material type of all. 

One form of biodegradable packaging with which we are all familiar is cardboard and paper. Infinitely more biodegradable than plastic, cardboard is convenient, inexpensive and better for the environment than plastic packaging. Cardboard boxes and paper bags can be reused and recycled, and when it is discarded with general waste, decomposes far quicker.

Some ancillary packaging items, however, are created using materials that may not be as beneficial to the environment as they could. Labels and tapes used to hold boxes and bags together, for example, may not be as readily biodegradable, may contain chemicals, and thus not be environmentally-friendly.

Compostable packaging is usually derived from renewable raw materials, often from corn, potato or tapioca starch along with soy protein and lactic acid, for example. Production is non-hazardous and, when discarded, will decompose safely into the air and earth. Though it can be more expensive, the cost is offset by improved brand loyalty and perception, increased sales, and the benefit of eco-responsibility.

Compostable packaging can be composted at home alongside garden waste, another bonus for eco-conscious consumers. The resultant compost can then be used to help create a healthy and thriving garden, which is in itself great for the environment. Compostable packaging, such as bags and film, are usually made from wood pulp sourced from sustainable locations, or from starch or sugar sources. While we mentioned that some labels and tape used alongside cardboard packaging may not biodegrade, there are compostable, biodegradable alternatives to these now available.

Even polythene can be made biodegradable by incorporating an additive which causes the film to break down into carbon dioxide, water, biomass and minerals in landfill. This sustainable packaging alternative is increasingly widely used across retail in an array of product types.

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Why sustainable development is important in packaging

Consumers are acutely aware of environmental issues and the need to change our production and consumption habits is of utmost importance in the world today. We know that the planet is reaching crisis point, so it is up to businesses to make the call to prioritise environmental sustainability in production. Packaging is a huge aspect of production, and in such a consumption-heavy culture, manufacturers have a responsibility to lead the way with eco-friendly packaging options.

Ultimately, consumers smile on businesses that demonstrate their commitment to sustainable materials in both their packaging and their products. This is key to ensuring repeat custom and future-proofing the business for a changing consumer landscape.