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6 Sustainable Packaging Trends in 2024

Packaging needs to protect and secure products, but it creates an enormous amount of waste. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), containers and packages make up as much as 82.2 million tons of the waste that ends up in landfills yearly — more than 28% of municipal solid waste. Despite efforts to alleviate this concern, only about half of the packaging used is recycled or reused.

Besides the environmental impact, consumers are increasingly demanding that companies prioritize sustainability. Failing to recognize these packaging industry trends can put your business at risk.

What Is the Future of Packaging?

There has been a marked uptick in consumers’ attitudes about being environmentally friendly. Research from the Harvard Business Review showed a major shift in consumption patterns, indicating that focusing on sustainability will be crucial to just about any brand’s success.

The message is resonating as organizations are starting to get serious about developing sustainable packaging strategies. Innovative approaches are emerging to reduce waste, conserve resources, and invest in more sustainable supply chains.

As companies are innovating with their packaging solutions, let’s take a look at six of the top trends in sustainability that are shaping the packaging future.

1. Increase in Fiber-Based Alternatives to Plastic Packaging

About 380 million tons of plastic are produced each year, and about 40% of that total is for single-use plastics. Fiber-based alternatives are hoping to change that. Companies are turning to creative packaging materials like molded fiber, corrugated cardboard, and paperboard for certain applications — offering renewable and biodegradable options.

Fiber-based product packaging is a good alternative to polystyrene products such as Styrofoam, which takes 500 years or more to break down. While Styrofoam is used because it’s both cheap and lightweight, fiber-based product packaging is now a viable alternative, and it’s made from renewable resources.

2. Shift in Material Sourcing and Emerging Seaweed Packaging

A commitment to sustainability goes beyond just the final product. Supply chain sustainability is a more holistic approach that requires a change in material sourcing to reduce your overall carbon footprint.

One emerging trend is the use of seaweed-based packaging solutions. These are biodegradable materials that help protect the ocean from plastic waste. Did you know that it’s been estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050?

Seaweed packaging creates a closed-loop system. The packaging material comes from the ocean and can be safely returned upon disposal — part of a circular economy and circular supply chain.

The one drawback of seaweed packaging is that it currently requires manual processing. Since it’s one of the newer packaging developments, a significant cost is involved to scale such operations. However, several packaging startups are evolving to optimize this eco-friendly alternative.

3. Use of Post-Consumer Recycled Materials

Post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials are becoming more common. Since 2018, 65% of brands and retailers have reduced their use of virgin plastic packaging, and the top 25% have collectively reduced their output by 13%, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Using recycled materials such as plastics, paper, and other materials can reduce the carbon footprint of the overall supply chain, and most companies can work with their suppliers to increase their use of recyclable and sustainable materials.

4. Reduction of Packages’ Weights and Sizes

A simple, but surprisingly effective, solution is to use lighter and smaller packaging. Minimalist packaging comes with several benefits, including:

  • Reduces energy consumption in manufacturing
  • Reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions during transportation
  • Produces less overall packaging waste

Not only does this provide environmental benefits, but it can also result in significant cost savings across the board.

5. Increase in the Use of Compostable Packaging

Compostable packaging is made from materials such as plant-based bioplastics or cellulose as an alternative to traditional plastic or paper packaging. Bioplastics can be made from a variety of substances, including corn, wood, soybeans, algae, used cooking oil, and more. 

Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the more common alternatives in sustainable packaging, typically made from plant extracts like cornstarch or sugarcane. It’s biodegradable and edible! It also has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional plastics. When it breaks down, it remains rich in nutrients, which can be used to improve soil health.

6. Reduction of Waste With Smart Packaging and IoT Technology

Smart packaging and Internet of Things (IoT) technology are transforming the packaging industry. Smart packaging solutions, such as sensors and trackers, monitor product freshness, detect tampering, and provide real-time data on supply chain logistics.

Not only does this provide better data, but it also helps ensure a more efficient supply chain. For example, this technology can be used to reduce food waste.

Achieve Sustainable Packaging Goals to Optimize Your Supply Chain

Most companies today see sustainability as an ethical responsibility. In fact, a survey by KPMG showed that 96% of the world’s top 250 companies report on sustainability. This reporting is publicly available and helps demonstrate a commitment to creating a sustainable and ethical supply chain.

This aligns with customers’ expectations and provides several additional benefits, including:

  • Helping to develop a positive brand reputation
  • Fostering customer trust
  • Building brand loyalty
  • Lowering manufacturing costs
  • Reducing the risk from resource price volatility

Helping to create a greener future by employing sustainable solutions can also help your company attract and retain talent. Deloitte’s “Global Millennial and Gen Z Survey” showed that 40% of younger job seekers want to work for companies with strong sustainability credentials. A Harvard Business Review study validated this finding, demonstrating that companies with strong sustainability programs have a 25% greater likelihood of attracting top talent.

As the world moves toward a more sustainable future, organizations that prioritize innovative sustainable packaging while optimizing their supply chains will be better positioned to succeed.

Surgere is committed to sustainable practices and helps companies power their own sustainability initiatives and optimize their supply chains with innovative solutions. Leveraging IoT technology, tagging, hardware, and software, Surgere provides real-time intelligence so your organization can make better operational decisions.

Let us help you design a greener packaging future. Contact Surgere today to talk about how we can optimize your supply chain.

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