14 July 2017
It’s an incredible time to be an eco-conscious brand. Two out of three consumers are willing to pay more for products made by companies committed to sustainability. Using environmentally sound packaging –such as those made from renewable materials - natural resources that can replenish over time – guards against the supply chain issues created by resource scarcity and climate change. Clearly, the business case for sustainability is only going to become stronger.

Bolstering these industry trends are retailers’ packaging sustainability goals and indexes, which require companies to share the environmental profile of the packaging they use and measurable progress they’re making in decreasing their impact on the planet. Taken together, these market forces constitute a powerful movement for renewable packaging. Unlike finite resources, sustainably sourced renewable materials are inexorable, helping create more stable supply of raw materials. In addition, renewable content helps lower a packaging’s carbon footprint. The recognition of all these benefits are propelling interest in plant-based packages already available as well as advancing new technologies.

Paperboard: While paper-based packaging is not new, today there is a growing understanding of its positive environmental profile. Entrepreneurial ventures such as Flow, Rethink and JUST stand out on the shelf as water packaged in cartons composed chiefly of recyclable and renewable material, wood fiber.
But not just any paper-based package will do – ensuring responsible sourcing of renewable materials is critical to all. Consumers, retailers and manufacturers want to understand what’s behind the package. They want to be assured that the renewable materials used can be traced back to sustainable sources.

Proving this is where certification schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council come in. Their seal of assurance communicates that materials can be traced back to well-managed forests.

Biomass: The next generation of widely available plant-based packaging will likely be based on biomass, or natural waste from food and beverage manufacturers such as palm oil waste. Interest in bioplastics in particular is being driven by changes in lifestyle and the growing consumption of packaged foods, as noted in a Credence Research report: “The bioplastic packaging market has been estimated to be valued at $6.8 billion by the end of 2016 and is expected to attain revenue of $46.5 billion by 2023.”

Sugarcane ethanol is the product being currently used to make Tetra Pak’s bio-based cap enclosures and packaging material coatings. Other bio-based materials we’ve seen in use in packaging are wheat straw, corn, potatoes and even milk. We expect research and development into alternatives for fossil-fuel derived plastic to increase as technology improves and more brands make it their mission to decrease their environmental impact.

Algae: In a decade or more, we could be seeing packages made of algae. This would be a significant breakthrough as algae does not compete with food and feed crops for land. Currently, AMAM, a trio of designers from Japan, is working on making cushioning material from agar, a substance made from algae. Across the world, a design student in Iceland has come up with a bottle made entirely of agar and water that decomposes after the water inside has been consumed. Their achievements represent exciting destinations on the journey toward greater sustainability.

The future is bright for those who dream of creating products housed in distinctive, environmentally sound packaging, and those who want to buy them and support sustainable brands. For more conversation on plant-based packaging and other sustainability news, follow @TetraPak_NA_Eco on Twitter. 
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