A Moral Imperative: How Some of The World’s Innovators are Driving Packaging Sustainability

Mon Jan 28 2019 /
Andrew Hurley

A Moral Imperative: How Some of The World’s Innovators are Driving Packaging Sustainability

More than ever, today’s consumers are driving change and disruption in the packaging industry. As sustainability becomes the number one moral imperative of the 21st century, it will also become an essential ingredient for long-term success. Done well, sustainability effectuates transformative change that spurs innovation, delivers bottom-line value, and presents an opportunity for a competitive edge.

According to a Research and Markets report, the global sustainable packaging market will reach about $440.3 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 7.7 percent. As a result, investment in green technologies is booming. Across the supply chain, companies are focusing on solutions to minimize their ecological footprint, and in the era of digitalization, megatrends such as big data will prove useful in generating insights that foster sustainability and change the future of packaging.

Implementing change, however, can present its own set of unique challenges, and organizations will need to be strategic in selecting their best avenue for success. So, what are some of the world’s innovators doing today to help drive the sustainability of their packaging? Find out below.

Eliminating ocean plastics

Every year, eight million tons of plastics pollute the ocean on top of the estimated 150 million tons of plastic already contaminating our seas. If we continue on the current track, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight) by 2050, according to a 2016 Ellen MacArthur Foundation study.

In 2018, value-driven brands started to take action by working towards 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025. The list of 11 companies, announced at last year’s World Economic Forum by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, included Amcor, Évian, L’Oréal, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Mars, Unilever, Ecover, Walmart, and Werner & Mertz. Other large companies, such as McDonald’s and Dell, have also made notable pledges to have more sustainable packaging.

Dell has for years incorporated bamboo, wheat straw, and mushrooms into its packaging and has set a goal of 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2020. In early 2017, Dell launched the world’s first commercial-scale, ocean-bound plastics supply chain.

Speaking at the American Packaging Summit 2018, Oliver Campbell, Director of Worldwide Procurement and Packaging Engineering at Dell told Generis Group of how the company processes plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coastal areas and uses them as part of a new packaging system for the XPS 13 2-In-1 laptop:

“Our oceans are in crisis and it’s getting worse. What we at Dell have done is looked at how to generate a commercially viable and scalable solution to the crisis going on in the world’s oceans with plastics. We’ve launched ocean plastic packaging on our XPS13. That will be expanded throughout the rest of the XPS line and we have other applications developing as well. It’s something we’re very excited about and our customers [and employees] are thrilled.”


Food and beverage manufacturers have been placing increasing emphasis on creating more sustainable packaging that uses less material and reduces costs throughout the supply chain. This process, known as lightweighting, is done by either replacing packaging material with a lighter weight alternative or cutting down the amount of material used.

In recent years, beverage companies have begun transitioning from glass bottles to PET for their lightweight characteristics and recyclability. Other brands, like Michigan-based company Boxed Water, have turned to carton-based packaging to support sustainability efforts and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Making it Edible

Edible packaging – the ultimate in zero-waste packaging. Whether it’s Icelandic product designer Ari Jonsson’s algae water bottle, KFC India’s edible tortilla bowl, or the Ooho’s edible water bubble, packaging that you can eat is revolutionizing the food industry. We’re likely to see more innovative designs as, according to Transparency Market Research, demand for edible packaging could increase on average by 6.9% yearly until 2024.

Improving Bioplastics

Finding solutions for the world’s plastic problem is an uphill battle. More than 18 trillion pounds of plastic have been produced to date and as more research surfaces, consumers and manufacturers are left clambering for an eco-friendly alternative. Could bioplastics be the answer?

According to a new report from Smithers Pira, bioplastics currently represent a very small share of the global plastic packaging market value – but that is set to change. From 2017 to 2022, the bioplastic market will more than double in value, growing at an average rate of 17% per year, to a market value of $7.2 billion. The report explored some of the more established materials in the market including bio-PET, bio-PE, and polylactic acid.

And thanks to advancements in technology, bioplastics are getting greener (by increasing the bio-based content of base polymers) and stronger.

To hear first-hand insights from sustainability and packaging leaders, check out our online courses to learn about sustainability in the industry.


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