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The Rise of Zero-Waste Packaging

Zero-waste packaging doesn’t necessarily mean “zero packaging period.”

Zero waste packaging

After all, products must make it safely to retailers and consumers, and packaging protects the products so this can happen. CPG packaging is also an extremely important brand differentiator. People may not interact with packaging much beyond selecting a product and unpacking it at home, but during its relatively brief use period, packaging serves several crucial functions.

With zero-waste packaging, the goal isn’t necessarily to eliminate packaging altogether, but to keep it to an absolute minimum and to do the utmost to promote reuse and recycling, both inside industry and on the consumer side. 

Labeling Requirements, Other Hurdles for Adoption

Some innovative thinkers are coming up with ways to sell products with no traditional packaging whatsoever. Lush Cosmetics shampoo bars are one example, and an edible water bottle being developed in London is another. 

But many product categories are required to put specific types of information on their packaging, and how do they do that if there is no packaging? Shelf-based QR codes and other tech-heavy techniques are being developed, but how practical are they? How will consumers respond?

Likewise, zero-waste grocery stores selling products that are packaged in-store, in either purchased, reusable containers or in containers customers bring themselves, sound like a terrific idea in theory. But reality tends to hit hard. Planning a shopping trip to such a store requires significantly more planning than a trip to a regular supermarket. Proponents are trying to alter the business model to make it more realistic for the typical consumer.

One Brand’s Push Toward Zero Waste

Global CPG brand P&G is nonetheless pushing forward with its own zero-waste goals. After 2019, the company plans to send no production waste directly to landfills. 

Zero waste packaging

P&G is more than halfway there already, and facilities in several countries around the world already operate with zero waste. How do they plan to finish achieving this major goal? They have a three-pronged plan:

  1. Turn waste into a finished product (such as in China, where surfactants left over after shampoo manufacturing are repurposed into car wash detergent).
  2. Recycle as much as possible both in-house and externally.
  3. Develop partnerships with entities that can put waste products to use.

The result will ultimately be about 650,000 metric tons of waste being either eliminated or beneficially reused, whereas before it would have ended up in landfills.

A Few of the Innovations Under Consideration

Some zero-waste packaging ideas are already practical, and in some cases are already in use. Biodegradable paperboard impregnated with seeds can be planted directly after use, and bioplastics made from mushrooms are already in use and are compostable. Other ideas on the horizon include packaging garbage bags inside a garbage bag itself rather than putting them into a box, using edible food wrappers made from ingredients like beeswax and seaweed, and developing soap housed in boxes that dissolve in water. 

Foods, cosmetics, and housekeeping products are three industries where zero-waste packaging is making inroads. It isn’t always easy because of factors like labeling requirements and determining the best ways to encourage consumers to shift their habits, but the long-term shift toward less packaging and toward packaging that can be reused or recycled has been evident for some time now. Ultimately, it spells good news for the planet. For brands, the reduction in waste should eventually have a positive effect on the bottom line. PKG Brand Design is always on the forefront of new CPG branding and packaging initiatives; please subscribe to our blog for the latest package design industry news!


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