Brands may feel overwhelmed with the difficulty of finding viable solutions to the packaging problem, but they should feel empowered to make changes. Every small step counts. A few places to start, include:
Join others—The world may be in a state of social distancing, but collaboration is key to finding solutions to moving away from single-use plastic in packaging for natural products. The problem was caused by decades of reliance on nonrenewable materials, and it’s too big for one brand to solve alone. Thankfully, industry groups have already been developed, so brands can research and joins the ones that resonate most with their goals and product types.
Establish company goals and timelines—Joining other brands in this fight for sustainable practices can help brands establish the sustainability commitments that make sense for them. Brands need to solidify SMART (specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound) goals surrounding packaging objectives and get buy-in from all the company stakeholders—from product formulators who need to understand how product shelf life may be affected all the way to marketers who need to be aware of how the look of the product on the shelf may change. Brands need to create teams or specific owners of these goals and revisit the objectives often. These commitments must take priority; don’t let slower (or higher) product demand push these goals aside. The future needs us to focus on these principles now.
Research materials that may work instead of single-use plastic—Again, the coalition a brand joins will help it explore more sustainable options. Another great resource is Packaging Digest, a media brand that delivers packaging news, trends, best practices and new technologies. (Full disclosure, Packaging Digest is a sister brand to Natural Products Insider.) For instance, an article in Packaging Digest by Gavin Killeen, managing director of packaging supplier NuPrint, explores three non-plastic options for packaging, including paperboard, bio-based materials and 3D printing of recyclable substances. And keep in mind that plastic can still play a role in sustainable packaging, if it’s recyclable and the brand does a thorough evaluation of sourcing, efficiency, recovery, health and safety of all possible alternatives.
Communication to consumers—Whatever steps a natural product brand takes to improve the sustainability of its packaging—or other business practices—it should let its consumers know. Even if a brand isn’t 100% carbon neutral (few are) and even if it has a long way to go to reach its SMART goals, consumers will appreciate the effort a brand is making. Consumers will sympathize with hurdles if a brand is transparent. Plus, shedding light on objectives will help keep a brand accountable to its consumers. And if more brands are being held to a higher sustainability standard, others in the industry will follow suit.
The natural product industry has already come together to create a healthier world for consumers who are braving a scary health crisis. With more diligence, collaboration and dedication, this industry can halt the use of single-use plastic in product packaging, leading to a healthier planet and future.
To read this article in its entirety, check out the Packaging: The global challenge of sustainability – digital magazine.