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Sustainable Packaging: The Impact of Environmental Responsibility on Packaging Design

Sustainability

Packaging is both a solution and a problem, it protects our goods, keeps them fresh, and communicates a brands identity. On the other hand, it generates waste, consumes resources, and contributes to pollution. With environmental consciousness becoming more critical than ever, consumers have become increasingly aware of the impact of their choices on the planet. We have all seen how businesses are reevaluating their practices and designers are becoming more creative with how they design packaging focusing on sustainable solutions which benefit both businesses and the world.  

Creative Boom, a UK leading art and design platform, predicted that one of the biggest graphic design trends for 2024 is to be “de-packaging and sustainable luxury” due to climate change driving new sustainable focused trends within design. The sustainable packaging market is projected to achieve a value of US $285.3 billion in 2024 and is anticipated to surpass US $490.5 billion by 2034. Businesses recognise that sustainable packaging is not only an ethical choice but also a strategic one.  

The Rise of Sustainable Packaging 

Packaging has undergone a significant transformation, during the late 1800s packaging was a luxury being used primarily for expensive goods and was designed to be reused rather than disposed. As industrialisation progressed mass production of packaging led to an era of convenience-driven, disposable solutions which significantly increased packaging waste.  With around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced annually it is more important now more than ever to find alternatives to using raw materials.  

Key trends which are driving the shift towards eco-friendly packaging:  

Material Selection – Companies are increasingly exploring alternatives in order to reduce the need for virgin resources this includes biodegradable materials like bioplastics which can be broken down naturally without harming the environment, and recycled materials such as recycled paper, cardboard, and glass.  A client of ours is now able to manufacture plastic pint glasses from almost 100 recycled material, collected from the same venues that dispense them.  

Minimalism and Efficiency – Good designers create packaging which fits the product snugly through creating the exact measurements needed and they also aim to reduce the weight of the packaging without compromising its protection function. 

Innovative Designs– Designers are becoming more creative with the materials they use such as using plant-based alternatives and even creating edible packaging.  

Consumer Education– Brands are ensuring that packaging is clearly labelled informing consumers about the products recyclability, compostability and eco-friendly certifications. Brands have also been encouraging responsible disposal by emphasising the environmental impact. Recently nestle have started collecting waste from their Kit-Kat’s at UK supermarkets, I now need to remember to take them! 

The Role of Designers

From these trends, designers now face the exciting challenge of balancing aesthetics and functionality with sustainability. Packaging design serves as a visual gateway to a product and graphic design is at the forefront of that approach, which is why it is important that the designer’s create the packaging that meets these three aspects. Designers are faced with several challenges which they must navigate when it comes to creating sustainable packaging. These can include:  

Material Limitations – Packaging materials come in various forms, including plastics, paper, and glass however issues begin to arise when a single product incorporates multiple types of materials. This can cause consumers to become confused as to what can and cannot be recycled which is why it is very important that the disposal information is clearly labelled on the packaging. 

Cost Considerations – Good designers strike a balance between sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Developing sustainable packaging can often require some investment into research, testing and prototyping. However, in the long term these costs are often out-weighed as initial costs are always much higher.  

Recycling Infrastructure and Policy – Recycling facilities and government policies and regulations can vary significantly across regions and countries. This is something which designers should remain informed about when creating packaging in order to align it with their work.  

Consumer Acceptance – Although sustainable packaging may be better for the environment not all consumers are convinced that other characteristics of the packaging are being sacrificed especially when it comes to food packaging and hygiene. The price of products may also rise in order to offset the rise in production costs which may not appeal to all consumers.

 

Innovative Sustainable Packaging  

Some brands are switching to more eco-friendly materials like reusing recycled paper, glass and aluminium giving discarded materials a second chance at life for example, Coca Cola aims to make 100% of their packaging recyclable globally by 2025 and to use at least 50% recycled plastic in their packaging by 2030. It is important that brands like Coca Cola who produce mass amounts of plastic packaging invest money and time into finding alternatives to using raw materials.  With the world’s economy solely relying on raw materials for so many years, businesses are looking into ways in which it can reuse these materials so that they may never become waste.  

You have got to love companies who have completely stepped outside the box and created innovative solutions such as edible packaging! One Good Thing (OGT), an innovative sustainability start up, produced the world’s first range of completely wrapper-less snack and protein bars in a bid to reduce plastic waste for on-the-go snackers. Each bar is made from raw cold-pressed, low carbon ingredients and is coated with a completely edible, 100% natural film, made from a mixture of beeswax and other natural ingredients. My initial thought when I read this was “is this hygienic?”. According to the OGT’s website they are no less hygienic than if you were to eat an apple, when you are ready to eat one, you can just give it a quick rinse and it does not affect the taste or texture.  

Closing Thoughts 

Packaging design has previously prioritised convenience, aesthetics, and cost-effectiveness but in today’s society where innovation and technology allow us to experiment and create new solutions to become more sustainable, this does not need to be the case. Designers play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future through their creative, innovative work they must embrace new practices which minimise harm to the planet whilst also still delivering impactful designs.  

By Rebecca Garland on 24/05/2024