Article by Hitesh Rao, founder of RR Group
The history of packaging has long been intertwined with that of the exchange of products for economic value. For as long as products have been exchanged, individuals have had to introduce ways to preserve the product for better transportation and safety. Now that the consumer goods industry is looking towards an eco-friendly and sustainable future, the packaging industry is in lockstep with it.
Envisioning the long-term trends is interesting and difficult in equal measure, especially during a time of rapid change. Currently, several global megatrends are impacting the ways we consume and package food, signalling that change is on the horizon. The shift towards sustainability is increasingly impacting packaging. Concerns about single-use plastics and packaging waste ending up in landfills or, worse still, in the natural environment, drive both public discourse and regulatory action. Consumers are now more aware, and eager to act to cut back on packaging waste. Consequently, urbanization continues to rise swiftly, and related phenomena, such as the convenient take-out and ready-to go-meal culture, along with e-commerce, translate into increased demand for packaged goods.
As the industry grows, some changes are inevitable, such as the use of technology to create effective packaging solutions, the rapid rate of increase in popularity of take-out meals, and the prioritization of the convenience of the end consumer.
The use of technology allows for quick knowledge sharing, especially of the important facets of the product being packaged. This information can be the carbon footprint of the product, the origin of the product, and any information the consumer may find helpful.
As urbanization increases and food delivery systems get better, the take-out industry will continue to blossom and change our relationship with home-cooked food. However, the key factor driving this decision for consumers will still be convenience and the usability of the products on the go.
The majority of consumer packaging uses plastic in some capacity, whether the product is 100% packaged by use of plastic or only some components. A single plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose. These single-use packaging solutions are causing great harm to the ecosystem. As with most things, the main reason for the widespread use of plastic is the economic value associated with its use. Compared to its alternatives, plastic packaging costs companies the least. While companies have looked to plastic to cut costs, the real price of plastic is paid by society as a whole. Single-use plastic product packaging is the second most common waste there is.
However, now, companies have a crucial incentive to shift to eco-friendly and sustainable packaging. Not only is it beneficial to the health of the environment, and thus to the health of the general population at large, but it also helps the image of the brand. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the negative effects of non-biodegradable products and packaging. This has led to a major increase in demand for alternatives that are safe for the environment.
A company can successfully win over consumers if they can successfully shift to an eco-friendly future. This has also become for a major differential for companies from their competition. If the shift towards sustainable packaging can be such that it affects consumer behaviour minimally, then the companies can possibly hit a jackpot.
This shift to sustainability can be achieved by using eco-friendly solutions, for example, paper, glass, metal; and reducing the volume of packaging used in products overall. To this effect more and more companies are investing a gargantuan amount of money in research and development to find environment-saving solutions to facilitate this change. Another major component towards a more climate-friendly packaging future is recycling. More companies have shifted their focus towards products that can be reused and recycled, thus helping to reduce the waste the packaging companies create.
A major factor in determining the future of the packaging of products is the role of policymakers. The regulations formulated by the government will dictate how companies approach the industry moving forward. If the government adopts an egalitarian approach, mandating the reduction of carbon footprint and increasing the use of bio-degradable solutions, the shift to climate-friendly packaging will be supercharged. On the other hand, if government policies let the markets dictate its future, then the speed and effectiveness of change becomes much harder to predict.
As we proceed, we will notice that the shift towards more sustainable solutions in the packaging industry will not be an outlier, as almost every industry is starting to shift towards a more environmentally friendly future.In Bob Dylan’s immortal words,“the times, they are a-changin’” and people who fail to change with it, will be a remnant of the past.