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Sustainable packaging trends

Will standardization and reusable packaging beat out efficiency efforts?

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Quality packaging must be durable and protect goods, provide a pleasant brand experience, and stack and ship efficiently. Because of rapid e-commerce expansion and increasing concerns for the environment, companies are also looking at how to make packaging more sustainable, recyclable and minimal. 

A 2020 study found that “packaging design is one of the key elements that can actively help improve supply chains, contributing to improved sustainability of logistics processes and activities.” The two main ways that packaging can become more sustainable are producing less waste and reducing emissions by increasing efficiency. Here are five sustainable packaging trends.

Reusable packaging

A growing number of companies are experimenting with reusable packaging that is conducive to a circular economy. LimeLoop provides customers with lightweight, durable shipping containers designed to be used over 200 times. RePack is a reusable shipping container service that aims to replace single-use packaging.

Ab InBev is striving for 100% returnable packaging or packaging made of at least 50% recycled content by 2025. Ikea has an ambition to be 100% circular by 2030. Amazon joined all four companies mentioned as a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization that views a circular economy as “one that is restorative and regenerative by design.” 

Standard packaging

A 2020 sustainability study said that multimodal containers and standardized packaging could contribute to more sustainable supply chains. Recognizing the most common 20-foot and 40-foot standard containers, it said the standardization of packaging, pallets and multimodal containers must work in concert to avoid wasted space during all stages of transportation.

DHL wants to see shipping containers and unit load devices go collapsible. DHL’s site said collapsing or folding a container reduces the space needed for storage and transportation to about one-fourth of the original size.

Lighter packaging

In an interview with FreightWaves, Emily Davis, director of sustainability at DHL Supply Chain, said the company is asking hard questions such as: “How can we make our packaging solutions more sustainable? How can we reduce the weight of materials that we’re … shipping out and reduce our fuel emissions at the same time?”

Lighter packaging means lighter packages. Lighter packages means fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with each package.

Amazon said it has reduced the weight of outbound packaging by 33% since 2015. One of the company’s strategies to reduce emissions is through using more lightweight packaging such as plastic, which has received some backlash.

Minimal box fillers

Strategic box design and choosing the right-sized boxes can make a big impact on empty space and the need for box fillers. Box fillers are used to ensure packages are shipped safely and resist damage. However, companies are moving away from the most common plastic air pillows and bubble wrap. Public awareness of waste is rising, and companies are responding by switching to nonplastic, recyclable and natural fillers such as packaging paper or Greenwrap

Minimizing empty space in boxes reduces the volume and weight of packages along with the need for fillers. This could make it easier for shippers to increase volume efficiency provided weight is not a limiting factor.

Eco-friendly materials

The majority of plastic packaging is not recyclable or is very difficult to recycle. According to a DHL report, plastic bottles decompose after 450 years, whereas cardboard decomposes in a short two months. Several experts argue that plastics never decompose and instead break down into microplastics that harm wildlife. Recycling won’t fix the world’s waste problems, but using recyclable, nonplastic packaging such as Amazon’s padded paper mailers could help.

Companies are leaning toward natural materials such as cornstarch, mushrooms and seaweed to create more eco-friendly packaging. The Swedish company PulPac is working to eliminate single-use plastics by creating a cost-effective alternative.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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One Comment

  1. James Smith

    I love the amount of information you have shared. Design impacts a lot on the packaging. Recently I have ordered about 100 pieces from printing shell and have a good experience with custom-designed boxes and the best unboxing experience ever.

Comments are closed.

Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.