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  • Writer's pictureElliot Gray

Is 2023 the year Packaging Sustainability finally goes circular?

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year or so, it is likely you have heard of the term ‘circular economy’. In brief and in relation to packaging, the term is used to describe the design of packaging with the intention of it being reused, recycled or composted, instead of it being thrown away.

Despite the obvious benefit of reducing the amount of waste which ends up in landfill, circular packaging aims to extend the life of packaging, while making use of sustainable materials – i.e., those which are manufactured without negatively impacting the environment. However, despite the term being recognised across the industry, what does circular packaging mean in practice? Will this be the year it turns from a ‘trend’, to a behaviour which is adopted by both businesses and end users?

True circular packaging aims to eliminate the use of unnecessary packaging within the supply chain, while implementing eco-design principles within the manufacturing process. Instead of a linear economy – where packaging is used and disposed of – circular aims to extend the life of packaging for as long as possible, while limiting waste and pollution. It also aims to reduce the pressure on the environment by encouraging use of existing sustainable materials.

For end users the benefits are numerous, with circular packaging having the ability to be reused or repurposed, reducing the financial need to invest in new product replacements. It also helps to promote a more ‘eco-conscious’ consumer; one which understands the individual impact of packaging on the surrounding environment.

On the other hand, businesses can take advantage of lower production, disposal and procurement costs. Often containing recycled content, the widespread use of circular packaging limits demand for new resources, conserving natural elements. Even when these materials do reach the end of their life cycle, they often break down quicker, reducing the pressure on landfills and space. However, often the greatest business benefit is the fact that circular packaging meets consumer demand for more sustainable packaging materials, while positioning businesses as proactive in the fight against global waste.

Examples of this in practice includes meal kit company Gousto, which dubbed its stock packaging, the ‘world’s first edible sachet’. Rather than deal with wasteful sachets, users simply need to drop the flavourless, pea protein sachets into the pot and continue cooking, with the sachet harmlessly dissolving. Beauty brand Dove has also long promoted the use of its reusable packaging to eliminate reliance on single-use plastics, with its stainless-steel deodorant pack designed to be refilled when empty. Even sport brand Adidas is getting on the bandwagon, with the release of a ‘low carbon performance shoe’.

So, despite the benefits, what is limiting the widespread adoption of circular packaging methods and materials? Well, it can be more expensive to produce since it requires more strategic design processes, alongside specialised materials and manufacturing processes. Consumer education and knowledge of recycling and reuse processes also continues to prevent circular packaging from ending up in landfills after its first use.

However, circular packaging is here to stay and with more pressure on some of the world’s largest brands to reduce their footprint, it is likely it will continue to play a more major role in purchase decisions. It is now considered less of a marketing tactic and more of an expected ethical commitment of sustainability across the board, and with consumer consciousness gradually becoming more apparent, circular packaging will play a crucial part in protecting the environment, both now and for the long term.

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