Brand owners, designers, packaging technicians and waste management consultants, all driven by consumer insights, are creating a new, environmentally friendly packaging paradigm – that is sustainable and relevant.
This means the conventional, long-standing linear approach to packaging design is on its way out. Leading global design agency Enterprise IG is part of the new paradigm, which creative director Rob du Toit says is challenging the industry to undergo a complete mind shift. "Packaging is a primary means of differentiation and branding, but this will increasingly need to be married with sustainable solutions," he says.
Du Toit cautions that environmentally friendly packaging has to be relevant to its environment if it is to succeed. "An environmentally friendly brand positioning is irrelevant without consumer buy-in. Green products are often marketed at a premium, and consumers must be in the right "space" if the products are to succeed."
Economics aside, green legislators, pressure groups and concerned citizens are putting environmental issues on commercial agendas everywhere, and the packaging industry must meet the challenge of creating responsible packaging that attracts, protects and dispenses in an environmentally-friendly manner. The Institute of Packaging Professionals (IOPP) and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are two established and respected environmental organizations that have produced a framework of guidelines for environmentally responsible packaging.
Ultimately, du Toit says packaging design trends will be driven by consumers, who have the power to boycott; Government, which has the power to legislate; and designers, who understand the importance of delivering sustainable packaging that meets legislative requirements and brand imperatives.
Du Toit says where possible, nature's own packaging provides the optimum solution. "The banana skin is the most perfect form of packaging. It is easy to handle, opens easily, protects the product, has a built-in sell-by date, and is biodegradable. Despite the inclination of exclusive chain stores to package bananas in plastic with an attractive wax label, we are also finding a trend towards the purchase of raw and unpacked organic fruit and vegetables," he says.
Where it is not possible to eliminate packaging, environmental guidelines call for a minimal approach. "Currently, cereal boxes and potato chip packets are designed for maximum shelf impact, although the contents of the package only fill approximately half the space within the package. Furthermore, high end, luxury products such as perfumed lotions, are typically packaged in an outside wrapping of cellophane, a larger-than-necessary box, stablising board to keep the product in place in the box, and finally a plastic bottle," he says.
Du Toit says there is an international trend towards "dejunking" design, with brands embracing simpler ideas and concepts, which has seen the emergence of some new trendy cosmetics and lotions being packaged without the frills and wastage. This is evident in the increasing popularity of brands such as the Body Shop.
Furthermore, the use of reusable, consumable and returnable packaging is becoming increasingly popular. "In the past, our milk was delivered daily in a reusable glass bottle, which was returned when empty and exchanged for another bottle of milk. Today, our milk is available in plastic bottles or cartons, or plastic packets. We have to question whether we have progressed or regressed as a society. Cost efficient distribution through weight reduction may further drive FMCG companies, including beverage companies, to move to plastic as an alternative to returnable or recyclable bottles.
Questions are also being raised about recyclable material packaging, which has been proclaimed as an environmentally-friendly alternative. "Recycling consumes energy, which increases emissions into the atmosphere. A polystyrene cup is arguably more environmentally friendly than a wax-lined paper cup. The production, use and disposal or recycling of the paper cup requires more energy and produces nearly double the emissions than the plastic container's life cycle", he says.