Your Favorite Brand's Packaging Sucks for the Planet
Tell us if this sounds familiar.
You order a small item from Amazon. Say, a phone charger for your car. The package arrives. You dig in. You get through the second packing box, and begin removing plastic wrap from the product package itself. Next, you remove a plastic insert and a few additional layers, finally revealing the two ounce charger you purchased.
Then, you get nauseous. Because the pile of plastic waste you just forged through to retrieve your charger reeks of absurdity.
Sure, plastic packaging is durable, lightweight and water-resistant. But mostly, your favorite brands love to wow their customers with eye-popping presentation, designed to promote the product’s “premium” nature.
Unfortunately, the planet is what ultimately pays the price.
Today, consumers are more aware than ever of single-use plastic and its effects on our environment. It currently makes up about 40% of all plastic. With single-use plastic bans routinely in the news, more groceries are being carried in reusable bags, and eateries everywhere are ditching plastic straws. Yet, an even greater culprit exists, which until recently, avoided any real sense of popular resistance.
Plastic packaging currently makes up about one-third of all household waste. In a world where only 9% of all plastic gets recycled, and single-use plastic is the fastest growing type of packaging, it’s clear the problem is only getting worse.
WHAT’S CAUSING THIS?
Traditionally, brick and mortar retailers placed requirements on manufacturers to produce packaging more likely to pique customers’ interest. This often involves using extremely harmful chemicals and materials such as high-density styrofoam, laminates, polyvinyl acetate, metallic foils, and polypropylene, among others.
But, are retail stores really our biggest concern?
In recent years, the explosion of e-commerce consumerism (i.e. Amazon, Walmart, etc.) has elevated the issue, significantly. Annual e-comm sales are set to hit $4.5 trillion 2021, a 246% increase since 2014. And while online brands have complete control over their packaging design, most still opt for single-use plastic. Even worse, the type of over-the-top, glossy-style plastic packaging is actually more expensive to produce than most plastic-free options, adding upwards of 20% to the final cost to the consumer.
Thankfully, the concept of plastic-free packaging (along with minimalist design) is gaining momentum. While still far from the reach of mainstream, some industries are stepping up to the plate more than others. We’ve seen progress in household cleaning goods (Seventh Generation), fashion (Allbirds and Everlane) and packaged food (The Wally Shop).
However, personal electronics, one of the largest categories of consumer goods, is disturbingly behind in making the change to plastic-free.
Yes, plastic packaging is easier to source. And yes, going plastic-free requires a bit more effort to find suppliers capable of doing both custom and sustainable. But for a product category that produces so many products each year it’s projected to hit $400 BILLION in 2019 U.S. revenue alone, it’s beyond time for an industry-wide rethinking of its business model.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Plastic-free options such as recycled scrap paper feed into the circular economy, where packaging is designed to remain in circulation as long as possible through reuse and recycling, resulting in an overall reduction of waste.
How much energy is used in production of packaging is also a consideration. Recycled materials use much less energy in production than virgin materials.
Most importantly, consumers must demand better from their favorite brands. Social media, for example, offers everyday customers a space to publicly voice their calls for change, and openly question brands that actively refrain from creating sustainable packaging.
The good news is that sustainability through more conscious consumerism is booming in popularity. We’re at a point today where about 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods (although higher costs isn’t always the case - see above). These trends rise considerably with Millennials and Gen Z, as does eagerness to write-off brands and products with little or zero regard to environmentalism.
If consumer trends continue in this direction, the future looks hopeful. One thing every brand on the planet wishes to avoid is losing customers.