After shedding the unrefined aesthetic of earlier generations, sustainable packaging was primed to hit the mainstream in a big way at Luxe Pack’s 17th annual packaging tradeshow. No longer championed solely by a small, dedicated handful of eco-pioneers, sustainable solutions dominated Luxe Pack New York 2019; the conference received twenty-six entries for its Best in Green award.

“Ten years ago, we would have told you sustainability was a trend,” Nathalie Grosdidier, general manager of Luxe Pack, tells JWT Intelligence. “But it’s not a trend anymore. It is at the heart of packaging creation.”

In fact, as awareness of environmental impact expands, the packaging industry has outgrown the one-size-fits-all classification of ‘sustainability.’ Instead, a more nuanced vocabulary is emerging. “Years ago, when we wanted to issue a report on sustainability, we said ‘okay this is a sustainability report,’” and that was that, says Grosdidier. “Now, we have too much to say, too many examples, so we have to focus on specific actions like upcycling and the circular economy.”

Along with this, Grosdidier says she’s noticing an increased urgency from brands to take action. “What is really interesting and important is that there is now a general consciousness of the problem,” she says. If brands do nothing, “their industry will drop” – and they are adopting sustainable solutions with rising fervor in response.

The purpose revolution

This shift is driven largely by rising pressure from consumers, explains Ray Lewis, president of Nate Packaging. The company was awarded this year’s Best in Green award at Luxe Pack New York 2019 for their PCR PP resin stick, made from up to 100% post-consumer materials. Previously, Lewis observes, colossal legacy brands were able to rely on their heritage and reputation to drive sales. But in the age of the ethical consumer, brands are finding that status and branding no longer hold as much sway as purpose and principles. When choosing between two brands, sustainability has become the deciding factor; “the consumer’s saying ‘ok, at the end of the day, price is the same, it works the same, but now I want to be eco-friendly,’” Lewis tells JWT Intelligence.

With consumers increasingly purchasing for ethics as much as for product efficacy, big brands are scrambling to keep up. “At this point, the smaller natural brands that have always been part of [the] sustainability [movement] because they want to be natural and earth-friendly have started to bite into the bigger brands,” says Lewis. Nate Packaging creates eco-friendly packages for indie beauty brand Pacifica, who Lewis notes has been picked up at Ulta and now has the same size in-store display as Benefit. “The big guys are all standing up and going wow, [sustainability] means something to the consumer now. It didn’t before, but now it does.”

The new raw material

WEB paptic3
WEB paptic1
Paptic bags
WEB paptic2

As brands are growing their sustainable practices, they’re engaging with manufacturers more closely. One of the sessions at Luxe Pack this year featured a panel of brand representatives responsible for sustainable practices within their respective companies. “They all agreed that the collaboration between brands and manufacturers has tightened,” Grosdidier recalls. “They work more closely because they are linked by sustainability.”

By joining forces, brands and manufacturers are able to dream up new materials that are eco-friendly without sacrificing ease of use. Hunter’s “Paptic” bag is one example of this. Paptic – a hybrid of the words ‘paper’ and ‘plastic’ – is a new material made from wood fibers that combines the recyclability of paper with the durability and reusability of plastic. “You can’t say it’s paper, you can’t say it’s plastic; it’s in between,” Grosdidier explains. “It has the advantages of plastic without being plastic.” Galeries Lafayette, the iconic French department store, chose Paptic bags for their ‘Go For Good’ campaign to make fashion more responsible.

Prioritizing post-consumer

WEB Nate packaging
Nate Packaging's award winning PCR PP resin stick, made from up to 100% post-consumer materials

A host of exhibitors showcased solutions made from old packaging that has been broken down and upcycled. “This is another big trend in sustainability,” says Grosdidier: “to integrate a high percentage of recycled post-consumer materials.” She says brands are increasingly asking, “‘How can I avoid [depleting] raw material resources by always having my packaging recycled in another packaging?’”

Along with Nate Packaging, Neopac and Viva are a few of the brands incorporating post-consumer materials into their packaging. Neopac’s recycled tubes contain up to 80% recycled, food-grade material, with caps made from 100% recycled ocean plastics, like fishing ropes from the marine industry. Viva partnered with Unilever to develop packaging for the brand’s Love, Beauty and Planet 1-oz hand lotion tubes, which are made from 65% post-consumer recycled content. “Many millennials feel passionately about recycling, sustainability and being eco-conscious, so we wanted to create a brand that has this same mindset,” said Bruno Lebeault, marketing director Americas for Viva.

Mono materials

“More and more, we’re seeing manufacturers innovate to produce packaging that is ‘mono material,'” says Grosdidier. This innovation is driven by an increased awareness of recyclability and recycling practices. “If you want to recycle your packaging, it’s much easier if you have a mono-material product,” she explains. She is seeing “bamboo replacing plastics and cardboard, among other new materials.”

Golden Arrow uses bamboo to create sleek, sophisticated eco-friendly packaging for clients like Apple and Google. Neopac’s PICEA tube is made from 95% wood fibers and earned the company a spot as one of five finalists for Luxe Pack New York’s 2019 Best in Green award.

This is an invigorating era for the packaging industry, notes Grosdidier: “When all these companies reinvent packaging, they have the power to reinvent our consumer society.”

For more on how consumers and brands are thinking about sustainability, read our New Sustainability: Regeneration report.

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