The future of packaging: 7 sustainable trends for 2021 and beyond

Once upon a time, the packaging world was dominated by plastic. A cheap, durable and effective material that could be shaped and designed to your heart’s content, plastic was the perfect choice for companies to get their products out into the world.

These days, single-use plastics are becoming a thing of the past. With plastic bans and restrictions limiting the use of the material, and consumers demanding more sustainable options, plastic is no longer the smart option for brands.

We’re all aware of the negative impact that plastic and excess waste is having on the planet, and a lot of people have higher expectations now when it comes to their packaging. Here are some of the packaging trends we’re seeing on the rise at the moment, while companies work towards a more sustainable future.

1. Less is more

In the past, simple products would be wrapped in layers of plastic, bubble wrapped within an inch of their life, and added to a box filled to the brim with polystyrene.

Not anymore. Companies are simplifying their packaging these days, limiting the use of excess materials and sticking to only what is necessary. Many brands are switching to lightweight packaging as well, to reduce the shipping and manufacturing costs as well as limiting waste.

2. Compostable and biodegradable plastic alternatives

Some products just can’t be stored in cardboard, paper or other commonly used sustainable materials. When it comes to certain foods, liquids and beauty products, plastic is still the most useful option.

In these instances, companies are turning towards innovative new materials made from plants rather than fossil fuels. They look like plastic and behave the same way, but they biodegrade in just a few weeks or months, rather than hundreds of years.

The good thing about these plastic alternatives is they can still be shaped, designed and branded exactly how you want them to look. The downside is that people will probably think it is just plastic, so you will have to point out that it’s eco-frindly.

3. Vegetable based inks

Of course, the actual material used to house your products isn’t the only thing to consider with sustainable packaging. There are eco-friendly options to consider when it comes to the branding, labelling and visual impact too.

Vegetable and algae-based printing inks are widely recognised as the more sustainable choice, being less harmful to the environment than their petroleum-based counterpart. They still provide vibrant colour and they’re easier to recycle than standard inks, making them a great option to bring your packaging to life.

4. Recycle, recycle, recycle

By using recyclable materials for your packaging, you can help to ensure it’s environmentally friendly. But to really make an impact on stopping the endless production of new material, many companies are opting to use recycled material in the first place, too.

In general, you can expect glass, metal, cardboard, and paper to all be good options for your packaging as these can all be recycled. But have you considered looking into already recycled versions of these materials? That way, you’ve already saved something from going to landfill, and you’re giving it a second lease of life ready to be recycled once again.

5. Minimalism

Many sustainable and eco-friendly brands are embracing a minimal look and feel to their packaging. Where once they might have included bold illustrations, colours and other design elements, many are opting for a more simplistic look and feel to their packaging.

Using plain brown cardboard or white paper with minimal text and imagery can make a bold statement that your packaging is completely recyclable and eco-friendly without even having to say so. Some companies are choosing to remove all text other than a simple word or two such as “I’m recyclable!” or “100% recycled”, which leads us on to our next point…

6. Clearer labelling

Using packaging materials that can easily be recycled is a great step towards sustainability, but what if your customers don’t know they can recycle it?

Clearer labelling and more transparency is something we’re seeing a lot more of on product packaging lately. By being completely clear as to if and how your packaging can be recycled, you’re helping customers to dispose of it correctly, while also shining a light on your sustainability efforts.

We know that more consumers than ever are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to sustainability, so the more you shout about your recyclable packaging, the more likely someone might be to purchase from you again.

7. Edible packaging

Finally, this one’s a bit of a wild card, but edible packaging is definitely on the rise and it’s a great way to eliminate unnecessary materials and needless waste.

Particularly for food, confectionary and beverage companies – who needs a plastic bottle of juice when you could have an edible capsule made from seaweed extract?!

These types of materials haven’t quite made it to the mainstream yet, but in the ongoing battle against single-use plastic, we predict that we’ll be seeing more and more edible packaging on the supermarket shelves soon.

 

Obviously there are lots of ways you can make your packaging more environmentally friendly, and these are just some of the top trends we’re seeing more of lately. We’re always looking out for innovative and exciting new sustainability trends, and we get excited when a new idea pops up that we haven’t seen before.

Is your company doing something ground-breaking to minimise the impact of its packaging waste? Or could you be doing more?

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