What’s Next in Sustainable Packaging for CPG companies?  

With over 450 organizations signed on to the Ellen MacArthur pledge, the movement toward sustainable packaging is on the upswing 

How well is your company keeping pace with sustainable packaging trends and developments 

As innovation consultants who advise our clients on how to meet their sustainability goals, we keep our eye on sustainable packaging developments. At the November 2020 Pack Expo Connects, we heard about the latest trends and developments in sustainable packaging.  

Here are our top three takeaways for food and CPG companies that are weighing sustainable packaging options.

image of paper water bottles

Paper bottles have arrived 

Paper bottles have long been a coveted plastic packaging alternativeYet it’s been technically challenging to create a paper bottle that keeps its shape and barrier while holding liquid ingredients. Three companies have made great strides in developing paper bottles for food and consumer product applications. 

If you’ve seen Seventh Generation’s paper laundry detergent bottles, you might know they’re created by  Ecologic Brands. Ecologic has been around for several years and is one of the betterknown paper bottle manufacturers. Sustainable packaging circles are praising Seventh Generation’s recent bottle redesign. Another Ecologic client, L’Oréalwanted recyclable and compostable packaging for its Seed Phytonutrients line. The company worked with Ecologic to create a paper bottle that wouldn’t fall apart in the showerThis latest design replaces a film-based inner pouch with a thin-walled extruded blow-molded liner made with 80 percent post-consumer recycled HDPEEcologic also redesigned the outer shell to seal with an interlocking cardboard side flange instead of adhesives. 

Paboco, short for Paper Bottle Company, is a Danish joint venture between bottle manufacturer Alpla and paper packaging material developer BillerundKorsnas ABThe 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable bottle has a biobased barrier, withstands high internal pressures, and accommodates digital printing.  The tethered cap can be made of a bio-composite or pure paper and the thermoforming based manufacturing process facilitates packaging of intricate shapes and designs.  Paboco is working with Absolut Vodka, Carlsberg Group, Coca-Colaand L’Oreal and other companies in Europe to develop paper bottles, ideally without a plastic lining.  In November 2020 Coca-Cola unveiled their Paboco-created prototype paper bottle, signaling that they are progressing toward a market launch.  

UK-based Pulpex Ltd, a collaboration between Diageo and Pilot Lite ventures, is also working with Unilever and PepsiCo. Pulpex’s bottle is made by pressurizing pulp, which is cured in microwave ovensand sprayed with coatings to prevent interaction with contents. The Johnny Walker brand is testing the prototype.  

WE’RE SEEING advances in recyclable flexible and film packaging 

Many consider multi-layer films and flexible packaging to be the biggest challenge in sustainable packaging. Billions of pounds of these materials are produced each year, and they are the most difficult materials to recycle. Why? Because several components hinder recyclability, including: 

  • the exterior layer, typically made of oriented polyester, that is used for its high heat resistance needed for the printing process, 
  • barrier films, such as ethylene-vinyl alcohol, aluminum foil or oxides materials, that are necessary to protect products from external molecules, and 
  • a product contact layer of polyvinyl alcohol that is typically used to hermetically seal the product.   

Amcor has risen to the challenge of creating flexible recyclable film and packaging with the AmPrima line. AmPrima includes polyethylene films, multipacks, and flexibles that are recyclable via store drop-offs or curbsideThe line brings a 71 percent reduction in energy demand, a 57 percent reduction in carbon footprint, and a 47 percent reduction in water use when the package is recycled at the end of its lifecycle. 

The AmPrima PE Plus designed for flow-wraps, pouches with spouts, and lidding has recently been prequalified for recycling with How2Recycle’s store drop-off programThis is a time and money saver for CPG companies that want to use the packaging. AmPrima PE Plus heat resistant film was also recognized by the Association of Plastic Recyclers for responsible innovation for molded parts and films over three mils in thickness. 

Multi-use packaging is gaining momentum. 

Tom Szaky, CEO of private recycler Terracycle, describes traditional efforts in sustainable packaging, such as lightweighting and material reduction/reuse, as a race to the bottom. Through the company’s LOOP initiative, product packaging is designed to be used multiple times by multiple consumersThis alternative to sustainable packaging is gathering a large following among consumersbrands, and retailers.  

In LOOP’s model, after a consumer has used a product, the consumer returns an emptyunwashed container LOOP then washes and refills for the next consumer. To be LOOP-certified packaging, the container must have a minimum of 10 uses or more.  This multi-use model is attractive for brands and package designers because it allows for more creativity in packaging design, use of premium materials, and addition of valuable packaging features.  

For example, Seventh Generation recently launched three new products with LOOP: dish soap, laundry detergent packs, and tablets that are packaged in stainless steel containers. This model enables the use of premium packaging that is not cost-effective in a single-use model. The packaging has attractive graphics and labeling and is compatible with Seventh Generation’s filling processes. 

 LOOP is available in all 48 contiguous states and works with 50 major retailers to offer products from 10brands.    

From alternative business models like LOOP, to new material offerings that include paper bottles and recyclable monolayer barrier films, sustainable packaging options have never been greater. 

In RTI Innovation Advisors, you have a partner that brings unmatched depth and breadth to solving sustainability challenges. This includes access to over 380 colleagues across RTI International who work on sustainability topics alongside our team.

We have engineers developing pyrolysis methods, scientists investigating nanoplastics toxicity, economists conducting lifecycle assessments, researchers advising on technology opportunities, and more.  In 2019 alone, our sustainability work exceeded $80 million for clients that included U.S. EPA, Department of Energy, and multi-national companies in the food, chemical, and consumer products industries. 

How can we help you explore sustainable packaging options that fit your brand and product position Do you need to weigh your options or pick the right partners?  Get in touch.   

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About the author

Jeff Cope helps shape the growth and development of the business and identifies new markets and new ways to delight our corporate clients. He leads innovation work focused on technology landscaping and partnership development activities among our Fortune 500 clients. He helps optimize the efficiency of technology transfer practices and economic development activities for universities, and works with different regions and states to help identify innovation assets and build targeted economic development strategies. A frequent speaker, Jeff enjoys sharing his insights related to open innovation, technology scouting, and commercialization. He has a love/hate relationship with a 1937 Chevy. Jeff received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.S.M. in Business Management from North Carolina State University.

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