Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Five Sustainable Packaging Trends

The last few years have seen increasing use of sustainable packaging by a myriad of North American companies like Amazon, Coca-Cola, Sprint, Dell and Kraft Foods. Utilizing packaging that implements growing amounts of recycled materials, compostable/biodegradable packaging, reusable packaging, source reduced packaging and resource optimized packaging has been shown to cut costs while still contributing to the design quality and familiarity of brands that consumers already know and love. Below are examples from companies currently using sustainable packaging.

RECYCLED: Quiznos Food and Drink Packaging

Quiznos has established a new goal of keeping more than six million pounds of packaging materials out of landfills and to meet that objective, Quiznos now offers 100 percent compostable paper cups, biodegradable pulp salad bowls, plastic cup lids implementing 30 percent post-consumer recycled bottles and napkins made from 90 percent post-consumer, 100 percent recycled material fibers.

Designed with an obvious emphasis on the brand in mind this new packaging will save a vast amount of resources in production. Quiznos estimates that the napkins alone will save nearly half a million trees and over 15 million gallons of water. In addition, the salad bowls will save nearly one million pounds of plastic waste from ending up in landfills.

COMPOSTABLE: Frito-Lay Sun Chips Bag

In the summer of 2009, Frito-Lay, maker of the SunChips line of snacks introduced bags utilizing a single layer of a plant-based polyactic acid (PLA, aka biodegradable material). The company later promised a fully compostable bag by Earth Day the next year. The following spring, Frito-Lay delivered on that promise and launched a bag made completely of PLAs. Certified compostable by Woods End and biodegradable by the Biodegradable Products Institute, this new bag will decompose in about 100 days under the right conditions.

UPDATE Oct 7 2010: 18 months after it’s launch, Frito-Lay is “bagging” the fully compostable packaging from five out of six SunChips varieties. The noisy packaging, due to a rigid molecular structure, has spawned a lot of criticism of the new packaging, spawning the Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag facebook group and according to some reports, more than a 10% decline in sales over the past 52 weeks.

REUSABLE: Happy Baby Organic Puffs Container

Instead of encouraging consumers to reuse their products’ packaging, Happy Baby chose to step up early in their products’ life cycle by reclaiming discontinued packaging and reusing the containers to launch a new line of Happy Baby Puffs.  Originating from Method, a company using the same packaging format for wipes, had hundreds of thousands of the containers available for purchase, along with the mold to create them as well. Already made with 25 percent post-consumer recycled content, Happy Baby was able to purchase the containers for a fraction of what it would ultimately cost to produce new ones.

SOURCE REDUCED: Sprint Accessory Packaging

Sprint‘s new line of accessory packaging is is not only smaller in size but also implements a greater amount of post-consumer waste content. The new packaging is up to 40 percent smaller in size, contains elements made from FSC-certified paperboard and 40 percent industrial waste content. PVC elements have been replaced with PET, utilizing 30 percent recycled content. Printing is done using soy and vegetable-based inks instead of the petroleum alternative. Sprint estimates that this new line of packaging will save nearly 650 tons of waste annually and reduce their packaging costs by 35 percent, saving the company over $2 million annually.

RESOURCE OPTIMIZED: Maxwell House Coffee Can

In recent years, Kraft Foods has shed over 100 million pounds in packaging their products by using sustainable alternatives. One contributor to this massive weight loss effort can be found in the Maxwell House brand of coffees, which now use composite paperboard cans in place of the steel alternative. Additionally, paperboard cans require less energy to produce and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their metal counterparts. The new cans still use a recyclable steel bottom but weighs 30 percent less, use 50 percent recycled content and shed nearly 9 million pounds in material for the company.


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