July 4, 2022

Top 5 Sustainable Packaging Trends

Consumers became acutely aware of their impact as buyers in 2021. Knowledge campaigns and growing concern for the overflowing landfills emboldened consumers with the power of the purchase this past year. 

Consumer interest in supporting mindful companies continued momentum and brands banked harder than ever on sustainable packaging as an investable theme. 

This past year, sustainable innovations moved beyond an industry trend outlier and into a mainstream necessity to stay relevant and demonstrate a responsible commitment to the end-of-life efficiency of all parts of the product.  

Packaging Sustainability Strategies

Trends in 2021 saw increased opportunities for consumer interaction and knowledge building, reusable options moving deeper into everyday use items, and a send-off to layers of elaborate single-use packaging. 

Although forward innovating trends have high surface visibility, it is often hard to accurately quantify their true impact. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition recommends utilizing powerful decision-making tools like a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool to shed light on “invisible” impacts that occur over the product's entire lifetime. 

Below we delve into innovations in sustainable packaging over the past year.

1. Smart Packaging

Smart packaging is an umbrella term for packaging elements that create a digital bridge between the consumer experience and the brand. The combination of both active and intelligent variations of smart packaging uses emerging technologies to increase the overall consumer and business utility of the product. 

Active Packaging

Active packaging interacts with the contents of the product to improve shelf life or quality during storage with an overall aim to maintain quality and reduce waste. 

Components within the packaging are designed to either add or remove things from the environment to achieve these goals. This includes everything from light filtering materials, antimicrobial surface coverings, or various absorbents. 

A great example of this is the oxygen absorber built into the cap of a beer bottle, extending its shelf life for three to six months. 

Intelligent Packaging

Intelligent packaging is used to communicate information to fulfill automation, marketing, and transparency through different engagement methods. 

Technology such as RFID chips, QR codes, and sensors all help to monitor the condition of the product and provide feedback about its stability. In addition, extended packaging can offer consumers the ability to find out more about the company's ingredients, their origin, and proper usage guidelines. 

Both of the above types of smart packaging are making great strides to reduce waste, maintain safety and quality standards, and empower consumers, which ultimately optimizes packaging making it increasingly more sustainable. 

2. Plastic Alternatives

Beauty brands are aligning themselves with sustainability initiatives more than ever due in large part to rising consumer engagement. Where once users' demands stopped at ingredient purity and transparency, they now extend to what’s on the outside as well. Plastic primary packaging now creates an incongruent brand messaging. 

Statistically speaking, over 120 billion units of plastic are generated by the beauty industry each year. The beauty industry is looking to replace the adversarial plastic bottle, tubes, and containers with other materials when it does not compromise the product. 

While plastic has certain characteristics that make it the ideal material to package certain products innovations in both formulas and materials have made lower-impact packaging more accessible than ever.  

The use of post-consumer recyclable plastics, biobased materials, and nonvirgin kraft paper board are all becoming more common within global brands. All of these options have varying carbon footprints and end-use recyclability but as innovations become more efficient they are poised to overtake the plastic revolution that has preceded them. 

3. Refillable Packaging

Refillable and reusable packaging has officially made its way to makeup bags in 2021. This is a simple yet effective way to reduce the amount of waste produced without sacrificing the aesthetics of the primary packaging.  

Research from the Global Buying Green Report shows that 54% of consumers say that the sustainability of the packaging is a factor in their purchase. In addition, 57% are less likely to purchase a product that is harmful to the environment. Refillable and reusable beauty packaging and applicators fulfill company sustainability goals as well as cater to a new crowd of younger more conscious buyers. 

One such company that has taken the philosophy all the way through to its mailer bags is  Izzy Zero Waste Beauty whose mascaras and brow gels are packaged in 100% recyclable, reusable, and certified carbon neutral containers. More established companies have also been leading the charge such as L’Occitane which has refill stations in select locations across the UK.

Whether it’s in smaller measures such as utilizing a reusable pump or a complete holistic rebrand down to the mascara wand, the dismissal of single-use beauty has just begun. The participation of the buyer will be imperative in the coming years as meaningful environmental impact becomes a priority over the fast beauty traditions of the past.

4. Package-less

Gone are the days of bulky triple-layer packaging that somehow once said; “our product is so valuable you’ll need a swiss army knife to get it.”

The “un-packaging” minimalism of beauty products has seen growing respect in 2021 from LUSH’s ‘naked’ beauty bar packaging to the Ethique’s compostable lip balm tubes, less is the future of beauty.

While packaging has long been seen as the “skin” of the product; necessary to protect products and valuable real estate to inform consumers, brands are finding innovative ways to do both without the bulk.

Cutting down on both primary and secondary packaging materials has an immediate effect on a company's overall environmental impact as well as answers the new consumer’s call to create more conscious products. The new generation of consumers no longer want to be responsible for the producer's waste. 

5. Carbon Impact Data on the Packaging

Sustainability-related buzzwords have become a trend unto themselves in 2021. The misuse of these buzzwords such as “eco-friendly”, “green” and “sustainably sourced” has made a wary consumer who does not want to fall prey to greenwashing tactics. 

The recent inclusion of Carbon Impact Data on the packaging has helped to regain the confidence of consumers and help brands clarify the data behind the claims. Ideally, the information provided includes an end-to-end view of the value chain in concrete terms with science-based data. It should include the product’s greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain, recyclability, and if it is not recyclable, its environmental leakage impact. 

Just Water has made transparent sustainability a core principle since its inception.  They have included packaging details about material make-up, carbon footprint, and recyclability clearly on their paper and plant-based tetrapak bottle since 2016. Information. The information is prominently displayed to the consumer allowing them to make an informed choice. 

According to market research, positive sustainability data on the packaging was identified as the claim most likely to make them purchase a product with 71% of respondents willing to pay more for a brand that uses sustainable packaging. Beauty brands are increasingly catering to knowledge-hungry consumers with this addition to packaging copy.