The report also surveyed consumer goods companies and found that 80% are minimising packaging to reduce waste; 89% are designing recyclable packaging; 36% are implementing reuse/return/refill packaging; 56% are redesigning packaging with more sustainable materials; and 27% are opting for renewably-sourced materials.
‘Consumer goods companies are embracing sustainable packaging and pushing the boundaries in terms of product and packaging innovation,’ explains Gerard Busse, marketing manager at the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) South Africa.
‘Sustainability for an organisation should involve the responsible management of environmental, economic and social resources and impacts. It should then become a business survival strategy driven by public opinion, government regulation, dramatic changes in major retailers’ purchasing criteria and increased consumer awareness. This has profound implications for packaging in terms of reviewing the current status quo and subsequent innovation. The world’s leading retailers are now demanding measurable improvements in packaging sustainability for the product they use and sell to consumers.’
Influence of consumer demand
Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impacts packaging can have on the environment and many are willing to pay more for products that use recyclable and sustainably-sourced packaging. This has also been driven, particularly in more developed countries, by the growth in online retailing where the sustainability message is being driven on these e-tailers’ websites and social media platforms.
According to a recent global Accenture survey, 83% of consumers believe it’s important or extremely important for companies to develop products that are reused or recycled, 72% of these respondents said they are currently buying more environmentally-friendly products than they were five years ago, while another 81% expected to buy more ecologically-friendly products over the next five years.
Pamela Webber, CEO of global creative platform 99designs, explains that there are three emerging trends to watch out for when it comes to sustainable packaging. ‘Plant-based, edible, and reusable packaging are being driven by consumer demand for eco-friendly alternatives.’
‘With more sceptical Generation Z and millennial consumers, sustainability entails more than “slapping” a label on a product listing the use of recyclable materials, it extends to doing something different,’ she comments.
According to Gerard, the movement away from plastics is likely to mean a step towards customer-favoured renewable and recyclable materials: paper and cartonboard.
Local retailers aim for sustainability
In 2018, Woolworths set a vision of working towards zero packaging waste to landfill. To achieve this, the retailer set clear targets and commitments, underpinned by two key public-facing goals. The first was ensuring its plastic packaging is either reusable or recyclable by 2022; and the second phasing out single-use plastic shopping bags.
The retailer recognises that these goals can only be achieved through collaboration with a range of stakeholders including suppliers, packaging producers, the recycling industry, and government.
Woolworths continues working towards using sustainably-sourced or recycled wood and paper products throughout its operations. ‘Where it uses forest products like wood, paper, and board for packaging, Woolworths aims to ensure that they are sourced from FSC-certified and sustainably-managed forests,’ explains Gerard.
The Shoprite Group recognises that packaging, while useful as a primary protector and preserver of food products and protector of non-food products, is a key driver of environmental degradation on land and in marine environments when not handled responsibly.
The retail group has committed to substantially reduce waste generation by 2030 by adopting a design for sustainability approach to packaging based on lifecycle thinking and innovation, and supporting local community recycling initiatives. It has, for example, partnered with the Packa-Ching initiative, which buys recyclable materials from communities in exchange for credits which can be used to buy goods at the group’s supermarkets.
‘It is important that organisations making the transition to paper consider its environmental impact. Switching from plastic to cartonboard packaging can be a positive move. However, if this packaging is not responsibly sourced it can still have a detrimental impact on the environment,’ Gerard asserts.
Packaging made from forest-fibre has the potential to be both renewable and recyclable/biodegradable, when it is responsibly sourced and sensitively processed. FSC-certified and labelled packaging helps brands to demonstrate their commitment to responsible sourcing using FSC-certified materials.
‘Packaging can carry the FSC label if it’s produced using FSC-certified materials under a valid FSC Chain of Custody Certificate. Including the FSC label on packaging is a great way for companies to demonstrate sustainability, alignment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and independently-verified supply chain integrity,’ concludes Gerard.
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