As sustainability continues to be a focus of the flexible packaging industry and the call for sustainable packaging continues to rise, it has become clear that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Shifting consumer preferences have influenced packaging trends — setting the stage for brand managers and packagers to harness emerging technologies to enhance the consumer experience of their products. An agile and multifaceted approach allows packagers to design solutions that not only benefit their specific industries but help achieve sustainability goals and meet consumer needs.
Sustainability continues to be a priority inside the packaging industry and consumers continue to have a voice in driving it. Gravitating toward products at retail that align with what’s important to them, consumers are embracing a gradual shift into a circular economy.
Leading industries are taking cues from consumers and are blazing the trail toward more sustainable packaging. Coca-Cola and Kellogg have both adopted more sustainable processes and environmentally friendly packaging solutions, with Coca-Cola setting sustainability initiatives to make packaging fully recyclable before 2025 and use 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030 and Kellogg moving toward 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
The industry has taken notice and is embracing both recyclability and compostability in sustainability strategies. Constantly innovating to provide the latest solutions to keep up with demand, packagers are responding with innovative materials for both compostable and recyclable applications that harbor sustainability, protect products and enhance the consumer experience.
In the on-going drive toward a circular economy, packagers are challenged with providing solutions that are environmentally conscious yet maintain product integrity and deliver the convenience that consumers expect.
In a less-is-more approach, packagers are turning to mono-material options. Constructed from similar or identical polymer grades, mono-materials can be recycled as a single substance and use less energy in the process while closing the loop on circularity.
Characteristically flexible, lightweight, moisture resistant and durable, polyethylene structures are gaining momentum as a player in the mono-material arena. In 2021 Nature Valley introduced its Crunchy bar wrapper made with polyethylene film as part of its store drop-off recyclable strategy. And while brands inch toward the goal of 100% recyclable packaging in 2025, polyethylene innovation for sustainable packaging is moving beyond pouches to include closures.
Polyethylene closures play an important role in the consumer experience from both a functionality and product security perspective. Hard-to-hold powdered and granular products require reclosability with a secure and tight seal to lock in product contents and prevent spillage. Other products that are lightweight and packaged in smaller-sized pouches require closures that are significantly smaller but still offer easy open and reclosable functionalities.
Closures are combining the convenience of easy open and easy reclosability to meet consumer needs with a compatibility to mono-material substrates providing reclosable pouch solutions for recycle-ready programs.
More Than One Sustainability Solution
For several years, recyclability has dominated the conversation when it comes to sustainable packaging, but it’s not the only solution. Compostability is on the sustainability horizon and is equally attractive for when recyclability is not an option — especially for product types where residues, oils and product remnants cannot be removed from the packaging. As consumers begin to adopt composting as part of their at-home sustainable practices, packagers are taking notice.
Derived from renewable materials including vegetable oil, sugar cane, stove, dent corn and hemp, compostable closures maintain convenience and product security. A successful compostable closure needs to be compatible to a wide range of compostable films inside the converting process. Designed with the circular economy in mind, compostable packaging considers the entire package lifecycle. It uses materials that break down under certain conditions, including heat, oxygen, humidity and the presence of microorganisms diverting organic waste from landfills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mars Wrigley has partnered with Danimer Scientific to develop biodegradable and compostable packaging — both flexible and rigid — for its products. It's clear that major players are realizing the benefits of compostable packaging: not only can it provide the positive experience of flexible packaging, but it can also help close the loop when it comes to circularity.
Advancements in compostable packaging are so promising that retail giants like Walmart and Target plan to adopt it. By 2025, Walmart hopes to move to 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging, with at least 17% of its private brand plastic packaging derived from post-consumer recycled content. Target has similarly ambitious sustainability goals, with a plan for 100% of Target-owned brand products to be "designed for a circular future." That is, to be recycled, regenerative, compostable, sustainably sourced and to reduce virgin plastics.
Other Packaging Trends to Watch in 2022
Along with sustainability, other emerging trends should not be ignored. Market Research Future predicts that the child-resistance packaging market will grow by 5.4% between 2022 and 2030. The need for safer packaging for products that should not be handled by children without adult supervision will drive child-resistant closure technology. Child-resistant closures can be both ergonomic, consumer friendly and adaptable to many film structures for different performance needs. Innovation for this sector will play a role in the prevention of accidents with young children, while providing full reclosability for adults.
The resurgence of the QR code is providing packagers with a renewed opportunity to engage consumers with rich content about their brand or provide exclusive access to interactive experiences. While brands like Pepsi have used the technique to activate their brand partnerships with immersive digital platforms, QR codes provide a simplified and cost-effective means to provide information about your brand while enhancing the consumer experience.
The Year Ahead
Concerns about the environment, global warming and plastics are a shared concern among both packagers and consumers. In 2022, innovation in flexible packaging will continue to be a priority and shifting consumer interests will serve as a catalyst to evolving innovative trends that enhance product integrity and offer consumer convenience. Innovative sustainability solutions will bolster packaging initiatives, but those solutions will need to factor in consumer needs. A successful combination of both flexible packaging innovation and consumer influence will position flexible packagers for success.