Rising climate change awareness has led to higher demand for sustainability actions. Consumers have made clear that businesses must demonstrate corporate responsibility for their environmental footprint.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says people produce nearly 400 tons of plastic annually — packaging accounts for 36% of all plastics, of which 85% end up in landfills or oceans. The industry has invested billions of dollars in new technologies for retail solutions — yet, a shift toward sustainable packaging has proved challenging for the supply chain. The food and beverage sector is at a significant crossroads, particularly as it tries to address sustainability targets and minimize food waste. With more brands eager to improve corporate social responsibility (CSR) and meet consumer demand for eco-friendly product materials, hybrid packaging may be a viable alternative.
Demand for Sustainable Packaging Rising
The retail industry has seen a substantial uptick since the beginning of the pandemic. Amid stay-at-home orders and an inability to shop in stores, global e-commerce sales reached $5.2 trillion in 2021, expected to grow by 56% by 2026. The pandemic also fueled the food-at-home trend, which resulted in a 17% increase in sales at independent supermarkets. Food service — such as take-out and delivery — was also at an all-time high.
Each area of retail uses packaging during distribution. Food packaging at the grocery store ensures minimal damage during transportation as well as food safety. Likewise, restaurants use to-go containers to transport food orders for customers. Of course, online ordering also gets delivered in packaging, whether the product wrapping itself or shipping materials. However, consumers have exhibited greater control over retail trends with transformed buying habits. Studies show 85% of people have adopted sustainable shopping behaviors — 38% are willing to pay a premium for greener consumer goods. This phenomenon hasn’t gone unnoticed by companies, which have begun transforming products and protocols to adhere to consumer preferences.
Today’s consumers are more interested in brand purpose, what a company’s corporate social responsibility goals are and how they achieve them. Regarding sustainability, manufacturers should take a closer look at their packaging.
What Is Hybrid Packaging?
Hybrid packaging has several benefits. For one thing, it offers protective, lightweight packaging alternatives with the potential for recyclability. Brands that utilize hybrid packaging designs can distribute goods in less emissions-inducing materials, swapping heavy plastic or metal containers with pouches and zip-close packaging. Materials could include customized proportions of compostable or biodegradable components — a step toward 100% recyclable matter.
For instance, molded pulp and fiber variations are recyclable at material recovery facilities, allowing more companies to deliver closed-loop product cycles. Additionally, manufacturers can design flexible carton packages that fit items with the least material possible without compromising durability. Pushback might occur regarding the costs of producing greener packaging materials. Although sustainability comes at a price, companies will likely find consumers will spend more on greener goods, offsetting the higher expenses.
A Sustainable Solution
Efforts to make consumer goods packaging more sustainable are propelled by creating high-recyclable content, biodegradability and reusability. According to a McKinsey survey, 60% of the top 100 fast-moving consumer goods companies are committed to improving sustainable packaging. Fourteen percent lean into the latest innovations to change their packaging design entirely.
One option is nanocellulose — a highly-renewable, plant-based material already deployed across different sectors. For example, nanocellulose is a natural purifier capable of eliminating metals and dyes from water. As such, engineers have developed nanocellulose water filters. In food packaging, nanocellulose gets fermented into a natural polymer with the potential to strengthen other bio-based materials — it’s already in paper and board food packaging. As companies work toward boosting their sustainability across the supply chain, hybrid packaging allows them to keep up with consumer demand, enhance brand reputation, implement a post-consumer protocol and reduce their environmental footprint.
Addressing the Challenges for Implementation
Although hybrid packaging holds untapped potential for sustainability, a survey conducted by Jabil and SIS International Research found 60% of companies struggle to produce sustainable packaging. Per the survey, compliance regulations are the most challenging aspect of sustainability for companies. Ensuring eco-friendly packaging maintains the same protection and durability level as conventional materials are of great concern for food and beverage corporations.
Additionally, 49% of companies said they’ve yet to gain the appropriate knowledge to deploy sustainable packaging solutions. 41%and 32% indicated a lack of budget and technology, respectively. Nevertheless, companies should continue finding ways to overcome setbacks on the road toward sustainability. A recent report from Pew Trusts and Breaking the Plastic Wave suggests that by eliminating plastic waste — such as conventional packaging materials — with existing technologies and green methodologies, humans can reduce ocean pollution by 80% over the next 20 years.
Improving Sustainability With Hybrid Packaging
Conventional packaging materials have wreaked environmental havoc, from producing greenhouse gas emissions to polluting ecosystems. With advancing technologies and more comprehensive research into sustainable supply chain alternatives, hybrid packaging may be the solution companies seek to lead consumers toward 100% packaging recyclability.
About the author:
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years covering stories about warehousing, logistics and distribution.