Earlier this month during Luxe Pack New York’s 16th annual packaging tradeshow at Pier 92, the term “sustainability” dominated conversations. There was talk of how luxury is having a hard time and how packaging categories are cross-pollinating.

“Eight years ago we would say sustainability is a trend, now it’s just part of our industry,” Nathalie Grosdidier, general manager of Luxe Pack, told JWT Intelligence. “The entire organization, from the product and design, even down to the manufacturing, should be environmental.” This is a clear indication that sustainability is no longer a choice.

Seamless sustainability

Packaging and design made from recycled materials are bidding farewell to coarse textures and dull browns and greys, instead blending in with any other premium packaging on the market. Spotting recycled packaging is becoming harder. “Sustainability is no longer visible,” says Grosdidier. “You cannot see it, you just do it.”

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Golden Arrow packaging
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Californian-based Golden Arrow is a packaging manufacturer with a green vision, using bespoke technology to produce high-end packaging for a zero-waste process. Even its print method is sustainable, using soy ink that is environmentally friendly. The final product? Modern, premium packaging with a smooth, sophisticated finish. It’s no wonder two of the largest technology brands use Golden Arrow to manufacture packaging for them: Google for Pixel Phone boxes and Apple for Apple Watch packaging.

Furthermore, Golden Arrow signed a longer-term contract with Apple on May 15 to help the company “procure 100% renewable energy resources for Apple packaging production by July 2019,” helping the company transition into renewable energy. “Apple has long been a partner in helping reduce waste emissions, and unnecessary plastics—a stance that strengthens both Apple and our own mission to invest in green practices,” says Jerry Huang, president of Golden Arrow Group. “If we can commit to going 100% green by 2019, others can and will, too.”

Zero-waste innovation

It is estimated that consumers globally go through 600 billion paper and plastic cups every year, according to research by Starbucks. The paper cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic which is difficult to separate from the paper, therefore difficult to recycle. Among the growing environmental concerns from consumers and brands, one manufacturer may have solved the paper cup problem.

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In September 2017, UK-based paper mill James Cropper launched CupCycling, the world’s first manufacturing plant dedicated to upcycling used consumer coffee cups. Grosdidier explains that the crucial technical innovation lies in being able to separate the paper and plastic in the disposable cup and then reusing the paper.

James Cropper’s machines were originally used to upcycle paper cup offcuts, and in 2013 the technology now used for upcycling takeaway cups was already in place. “The requirement for recycled fiber in the supply chain continues to grow as the tide of public opinion against single-use packaging has been building fast,” Julie Tomlinson, communications manager at James Cropper, tells JWT Intelligence. “There are already two other companies in the UK who are looking to recycle used coffee cups, but we are unique in that we upcycle them into high-quality paper, such as that used for the iconic yellow Selfridges bags, or our Colourform molded paper fiber packaging.”

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Selfridges bags
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Lush bath melt tray

Big brands are behind the initiative, including McDonald’s and Costa Coffee, installing cup collection stations. The plant has reported recycling 20 million cups and has the capacity to process 500 million annually. “Consumers are increasingly becoming interested in the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions and now more than ever seek out brands for which sustainability is a key focus,” says Tomlinson. “However, the secret to a more sustainable future lies in a creative pledge—so we look forward to gaining further commitment from consumers, retailers, waste management companies, local authorities and beyond.”

Re-engaging with luxury packaging

During Luxe Pack New York, a panel of industrial designers explored the future of luxury packaging. “The idea of luxury is evolving but luxury packaging is not moving with it,” comments Hlynur V Atlason, founder of New York-based design studio Atlason. “Luxury packaging use to be layered and maximalist, but we’re starting to see consumers rejecting this as they start choosing what’s good for the environment.”

Innovation in sustainable luxury packaging dominated the panel discussion, suggesting the future of luxury packaging must have a smart and sustainable process baked into the design. Louis Vuitton’s minimalist, transparent and reusable glass fragrance bottles designed by Marc Newson were noted as the best examples in the luxury space. “Offering one choice and making it reusable and not disposable is interesting for luxury packaging,” says Michael Robinson, director of open innovation for packaging at L’Oréal Americas.

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Louis Vuitton fragrance bottles
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Personalization continues to be a way to engage luxury consumers. More customization and uniqueness is the way forward, says Grosdidier, such as with a Louis Vuitton suitcase that has your name on it. “That’s the DNA of luxury—more personalization. With all the digital tools we have now it’s more affordable and easier to do.”

Cross-pollination packaging

Designers are borrowing forms from other categories and rejecting packaging stereotypes. “The cross-pollination of solutions brought to one market from another is a trend we’re seeing this year,” says Grosdidier. “For example, a company presents vials of perfume in a little box that used to be for cigars. It’s original and the box is pink rather than brown.”

In The Future 100 report the Innovation Group identified “double-take packaging,” examining packaging design borrowing from other markets. The idea is not to confuse consumers, but instead allow the product to sit in more than one retail location. For example, Beauty Chef and Super Elixir are beauty supplements that are placed both in the food aisle and the beauty section.

For more on packaging trends read our previous Luxe Pack roundup.

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