11th July. Posted in Blog.

It’s impossible to look at today’s retail environment without seeing the impact that sustainability and ethical causes have had. From the hybrid vehicle sector to the rapid growth of efficient packaging formats, consumers have dutifully embraced change. These developments have come at a rapid pace, spurred on by collective conscience and media coverage, including the “Blue Planet effect”.

The solution to waste reduction is a hotly contested topic. The media tends to vilify plastics use, with reactionary policy and high-profile advocates swaying public opinion. On the other side of the debate, brands and goods producers argue that packaging brings more benefits than drawbacks in terms of environmental impact, ultimately reducing waste that ends up in landfills.

Despite the ongoing discourse, there is growing pressure on businesses to meet the sustainable demands of the market, which has led many to reconsider how they are packaging their goods. Because a product’s life cycle doesn’t end at the point of consumption, providing a container solution that is eco-friendly has become critically important, as well as being a consistent competitive advantage to businesses that push the envelope.

One familiar phrase to the buying collective is ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, collectively known as the 3 R’s. As technologies and ideologies have developed, the phrase has also had to evolve, now incorporating a fourth R. To understand the changes and what they mean for business operating in the current market environment, context is key.

Reduce, Reuse and Recycle…

The 3 Rs, representing the Waste Hierarchy, have been the standard of ecological product disposal for a long time. They first appeared in the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), originally published in 1975, to later be amended and updated in 1991 and 2008 to reflect new technologies and processes. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is a phrase designed to be a simple, memorable set of principles that lists the possible routes for waste reduction from most preferable to least.

This tactic proved to be effective in building collective understanding. Accompanied by various marketing campaigns over a sustained period, the 3 Rs have been ingrained in the public and industry mindsets, influencing behaviour and changing how buyers think about product and packaging disposal on a fundamental level. Ultimately, this change in mentality affects purchase decisions, and suppliers that haven’t leveraged packaging as a sustainability benefit lose out.

The recommendations apply to all packaging applications and substrates, and are designed to diminish the overall impact that retail has on the environment.

Reduce encourages consumers and manufacturers to make cuts on their carbon footprint by physically reducing the amount of material used and packaging produced and purchased, as well as prioritising products that make more efficient use of materials. Reducing initial requirement and choosing light-weight packaging provides additional benefits along the supply chain, reducing carbon emissions through more eco-friendly logistical operations. As the first directive of the 3 Rs, this is considered to be the most preferable choice.

Reuse is the next consideration, encouraging buyers to use products and containers on a repeated basis rather than disposing and repurchasing for each consumption moment. Where the product is durable enough for repeated use, reusing these consumables is less favourable than reducing consumption to begin with, but is preferred over recycling. Many shops and supermarkets take this into account as part of their value proposition, offering discounts on coffee with returned cups, or replacement bags-for-life on offer to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics. Repeated use is preferential for certain products that are more difficult to break down or reclaim, such as polyvinyl products and elements of water bottles.

The final option for the initial 3 Rs is Recycle. This takes the full life cycle of the product into consideration, from source to disposal. Recycling is encouraged where reusing containers or reducing the need are not viable options. This step enables the product or packaging to find new life in other applications, but also comes with a complicated supply chain of its own, requiring dedicated infrastructure, commercially viable new end market uses for the material and additional energy outlays in the recovery process.

… and Refuse!

Refusal has become the latest addition to the phrase, reflecting the changing dynamic of the buyer/seller paradigm. The power dynamic has shifted and, as sustainability becomes a more pressing issue to the public consciousness, refusal of products based on their eco-credentials encourages consumers to turn down products that appear wasteful or difficult to process after use.

A number of high-profile initiatives have begun to encourage this refusal, one of the most well-known cases being the current war on plastic straws. Bodies such as the Plastic Pollution Coalition and The Last Plastic Straw have built a great deal of momentum by focusing on the refusal route, emboldening consumers to not only decline straws from vendors and restaurants, but to actively reach out to local businesses and effect change directly.

The schemes almost exclusively advocate swapping plastic straws for a paper variant. The support seems to be working – the UK government has outlined plans to ban plastic straws from 2020. In terms of waste reduction, the weight of support that these initiatives have received is almost unprecedented, but has not been without challenge or criticism. Following the initial wave of support, there was a marked response from the disabled community, who reiterated that a blanket ban would be impractical, with plastic straws being vital tools to many disabled people across the country.

At the core, the addition of refusal to the core principles of waste reduction has empowered the buying public to take a more proactive approach to purchase decisions, actively denying additional businesses to companies that are not seen to be doing enough to reduce their environmental impact.

What does this mean for business?

Companies today, across all industries, should be taking note. The growing calls to refuse sales to less efficient packaging has real-time profit and sale consequences. It is more important than ever that businesses are using their product containers as a competitive advantage.Those that leverage responsible packaging will reap the benefits and those that do not will find themselves at a disadvantage.

The key to unlocking the potential benefits lies in manufacturers and retailers understanding that sustainability is not just a marketing buzzword but is now an important influencer in the purchase decision process. Retailers have to put their money where their mouth is and weave sustainability into their brand values – communicating this clearly on their packaging and making the demonstrable ethical benefits very clear.

A good example of sustainable causes being woven into the core fabric of a business to meet consumer needs is savoury snack manufacturer, Two Farmers. With ethical, honest production as a central value of the business, Two Farmers became the first brand in the world to offer a compostable pack for crisps. For consumers, this offers guilt-free purchasing. Parkside developed this innovative packaging solution to meet the pro-active demands of the buying public, who are enabled by the new refusal principle.

Using a multi-layer laminate created from wood pulp, the packaging not only extends the shelf life of the product, but also allows a practical and convenient method of sustainable disposal. These values are clear on the pack, the attribute is noticeably displayed through written text and conveyed through the traditional, classic charm of the aesthetic design. The brand and its ethical values become very apparent, standing out and maximising its shelf appeal in a busy and competitive market place.

The name of the game is consumer objection-reduction; finding each possible sustainability challenge that could put off potential consumers and removing the obstacle through innovation in technology and substrates. Parkside has this nailed – have you?

Talk to Parkside about sustainable packaging design.