Packaging & Paper

Six innovative solutions to the plastic packaging issue

Plastic is designed to be durable, but consequently can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. According to Plastic Oceans International, we produce over 300 million tons of plastic globally every year—and 8 million tons of this ends up in the ocean.

Plastic is polluting our waterways and landfills, finding its way into the stomachs of birds and fish and threatening to upset our ecosystems.

Retailers are feeling intense pressure from the public and environmental organizations to address the plastic crisis by creating sustainable packaging options for their products. As a result, businesses across all industries are snapping up talent with expertise in organic, renewable, reusable and eco-friendly solutions.

There are a number of initiatives being rolled out to counter the use of non-recyclable and single-use plastics in packaging. I’ve highlighted six of the most exciting developments below.

1. Bioplastics

Bioplastics come from vegetal products such as soy, corn, starch and other fibers that can decompose over a period of about three years compared to 1,000 years, which is how long it takes conventional plastics to degrade.

Companies looking for suitable alternatives to plastic are turning to bioplastics. For example, Google Express announced this month that it will be using TIPA material for shipping products, which is made of plant-based ingredients and offers a durable, flexible and compostable packaging solution.

2. Compostable packaging

Companies are manufacturing packaging that will disintegrate into natural elements in about 90 days, leaving no traces of toxicity in the soil. This is different from being biodegradable, as items marketed as such can actually take up to 10,000 years to biodegrade.

While bioplastics are specifically made of natural materials, compostable plastics are manufactured from anything that can be broken down into organic molecules in a short amount of time.

HP Inc announced this month that HP digital printing inks are now certified as compostable, making it possible to deink packaging after use and guaranteeing that waste passes tests for ecotoxicity, heavy metals and fluorine content levels based on industry standards.

3. Design for reuse

Creating packaging with a reverse supply chain means that the waste is returned to the company and can be reused safely.

UPS is currently piloting such a concept in partnership with TerraCycle: a reusable packaging system called Loop. The delivery company can offer clients the option to purchase products in durable packaging that’s picked up, cleaned and reused.

4. Material health

People are beginning to question what hazardous chemicals come into contact with the products they use. To address this, companies can use materials with fewer heavy metals, chemicals and non-toxic components. This also refers to the use of harmful materials that might be involved in the manufacturing process of the packaging.

In 2018, over 275 brands committed to reducing plastic packaging use, signing the New Plastic Economy Global Commitment of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations. One of the cornerstones of the agreement states that signatories will eliminate the use of all packaging containing hazardous chemicals. The agreement was signed by multinational companies such as Danone, Mars and Nestlé.

5. Ocean plastic pollution

According to the Washington Post, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050 and at least 10 of the world’s largest cities will be inhabitable as a result of climate change. To address this, companies are not only reducing the amount of plastic that they use in favor of alternative solutions, but also removing the plastic already polluting the oceans to reuse in other products.

For instance, Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans in 2016 to manufacture shoes out of plastic waste that washed up on shore—and they’re set to make over 11 million pairs of these sneakers in 2019!

6. Eliminating plastic from design

Some companies have changed their packaging design to eliminate reliance upon plastic, using other materials such as aluminium, carton or paper instead.

Corona has just announced a very clever solution by redesigning their cans, enabling them to lock together when stacked on top of each other. This eliminates the need for plastic six-pack ring holders. The design is open source, so more companies can copy this initiative, thereby eliminating further plastic use in the industry.

This is just a whistle-stop overview of some innovative ways that companies are approaching the issue of sustainability and recyclable/reusable packaging for their products. Given how quickly this area is moving across industries like food and drink, it’s no surprise that businesses are desperate for experienced talent to support their research and development and manufacturing of environmentally-friendly packaging.

There are few people out there with the relevant skills to see these type of innovative projects through from start to finish. Companies are looking for talent with the right mind-set, manufacturing experience and knowledge—and specialization in sustainability is a plus. This is a relativity new field for all industries, so these roles are set to continue to evolve as the need for sustainable packaging grows.

In the interim, as companies struggle to fill places, they are training up talent and redesigning their supply chain to cope with the developing circular economy. Consequently, individuals who demonstrate innovative thinking, manufacturing experience, a knowledge of reverse supply chain, chemistry and packaging are in high demand.

If you think you have the right skills and are interested in chatting about progressing your career in this space, now is the perfect time to consider your options.


Mexico News Daily | Corona introduces interlocking cans
WashingtonPost | By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans
Plastic Oceans | The Facts
TreeHugger | What Adidas and Parley Are Doing for the Oceans
Retail Detail | New worldwide alliance against plastic
Supply Chain Dive | UPS to pilot reusable packaging deliveries and pickups
Packaging Europe | HP Indigo Digital Print Certified for Compostable Packaging
Google Express goes green with Israeli compostable packaging

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