Three Innovative Sustainable Packakging Stories

Examples of exciting and innovative sustainable packaging solutions emerging in the procurement and supply chain space.

By Hugo Britt | February 22, 2023

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Inevitably, any company attempting to reduce its environmental impact will have to grapple with the issue of sustainable packaging. This could involve rethinking the packaging around its own products, and/or encouraging suppliers to improve their packaging and reduce their plastic waste.

A McKinsey investigation into sustainable packaging revealed 43% of customers believe the environmental impact of packaging is “extremely or very important” in their purchasing decisions. The survey was conducted against a background of increased regulatory action around the globe as countries move to reduce single-use plastics.

Sustainable packaging

In 2023, approximately 159 million tonnes of plastic waste will be created globally and 43% of global plastic waste will be mismanaged at the end of its life, amounting to 68 million additional tonnes of plastic in nature. If these numbers are difficult to visualize, consider that humans have generated one billion elephants worth of plastic to date.

When discussing sustainable packaging, it’s important to keep the four R’s in mind:

  1. Reduce consumption at the source. 
  2. Re-use packaging as much as possible to give it a longer life.
  3. Recycle as much as possible. 
  4. Recover, or transforming waste into resources.

At the same time, procurement needs to be aware of the dynamic nature of the packaging industry and ever-increasing cost pressures. This is where procurement can make a real difference. 

Matthew Wright, Founder and CEO of Specright, told Una’s Sourcing Hero podcast that “packaging has to become a collaborative non-siloed discussion within companies led by procurement. 

There is this real optionality that procurement has to provide the business which is ‘here is everything we want to do, and here are the options that we have in front of us’ and ‘let’s sit down and collectively talk about what is the right level of spend or right level of attention around this packaging or quality that needs to be given so that everybody is happy.’

There are some exciting and innovative solutions emerging in this space, ranging from biodegradable alternatives to plastic, to swapping plastic for paper, and even paper-based cold-chain solutions.

A recent study indicated 43% of customers believe the environmental impact of packaging is “extremely or very important” in their purchasing decisions.

Notpla 100% Seaweed Food Containers

Notpla (“Not Plastic”) has invented a seaweed-based food container designed to combat waste and contribute to a healthier planet. Once used, the entire package can be composted, leaving no trace behind—similar to the natural decomposition of a fruit peel.

Seaweed grows rapidly without the need for freshwater, land, or fertilizers. It not only captures carbon but also reduces the acidity of surrounding waters. Seaweed forests boost biodiversity and can effectively filter out pollution resulting from human activities.

An added bonus is that worms, fungi, and microbes find it delicious. Instead of generating toxic waste, seaweed containers become nourishment for other living organisms. To date, Notpla has successfully replaced over 3.5 million units of petroleum-based plastic food containers.

Notpla was also behind the edible Oooho Water bottle (similarly made from seaweed).

Nestlé Smarties Plastic to Paper Packaging

Everyone loves Smarties, right? Well, there’s a new reason to love them after Nestlé’s Smarties brand has undertaken a significant shift toward sustainability by transitioning its packaging to recyclable paper.

This move aligns with Nestlé’s commitment to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. The challenge involved finding a durable yet recyclable paper material, with extensive testing to ensure performance in various scenarios. The end result not only met sustainability goals but also introduced a new hexatube multipack design that reduces packaging material. We can expect a global rollout of paper Smarties packaging very soon.

In the USA, Nestle has made other packaging changes that go a long way, including: 

  • Removing the cardboard circle from beneath DiGornio pizzas (saving 4.5 million pounds of corrugated paper from DiGiorno packaging, the equivalent of saving 49,000 trees a year.)
  • Starbucks Nespresso coffee capsules are now “infinitely recyclable” by being made out of 100% aluminum. The capsules get recycled through 88,000 UPS drop-off points and 500 capsule collection points across the U.S.
  • Starbucks Creamers are now 100% recyclable. Nestle recognized that having to remove the shrink-wrapped label from a bottle before recycling was causing confusion, so the labels are now made using recycling-compatible inks and materials.

“Packaging has to become a collaborative non-siloed discussion within companies led by procurement."

- Matthew Wright, Founder & CEO, Specright

Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Paper Coolers

Cold chain shipping has a massive impact, mainly due to the high volume of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam coolers, which, while effective in protecting products, are very difficult to recycle and can wreak environmental havoc. 

Thermo Fisher Scientific has introduced a 100% recyclable cooler designed for cold chain shipping. The 100% paper cooler serves as an eco-friendly alternative to EPS coolers, meeting the thermal requirements essential for maintaining rigorous product quality standards.

As the company writes: “We understand the importance of packaging in safeguarding products, but we believe it shouldn’t come at the expense of sustainability.”

Other ways Thermo Fisher is working on reducing the impact of cold chain shipping is through exploring ambient temperature shipping options whenever possible, and working to reduce the volume of dry ice in its supply chain.

Start a conversation with your suppliers about packaging

If your suppliers don’t seem interested in moving beyond conventional packaging, it may be time to have a conversation about the win-wins involved in sustainable and innovative packaging. Here are some of our previous blog articles to get you started:
Visit www.una.com/packaging to learn how our own suppliers are focusing on providing sustainable packaging solutions for Una members.

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