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The Top Five Sustainable Packaging Innovations Shaping the Industry in 2024

As environmental concerns continue to dominate headlines and consumers demand more sustainable options, new and improved innovations in this space continue to rise. In this blog, we’ll explore the top five packaging innovations that are revolutionizing the way products are wrapped, boxed, and presented in 2024. From water-soluble and agricultural sources to new technologies that are aimed at reducing waste during production and transportation – let’s dive in, shall we?

Lots of home decor products like candles, trays, bottles, and more displayed on a table in a store. All are sustainably packaged with brown paper and cardboard.

Credit: Jess Morgan on Unsplash

An Introduction to Sustainable Packaging

Packaging plays a crucial role in our daily lives and creates an impact nearly every time we make a product purchasing decision. However, with the increasing global concerns around waste, the packaging industry continues to be under pressure to reduce its negative impact on the environment.

According to the EPA, Sustainable packaging can be defined as any form of packaging that reduces its environmental impact throughout its life cycle – from sourcing materials, manufacturing, distribution, usage, and disposal or recycling. It takes into consideration factors such as materials used, energy consumption during production, carbon emissions, recyclability, and biodegradability.

Even in the more recent, post-pandemic years, there has been a significant shift towards sustainable packaging solutions due to various reasons such as government regulations and consumer demand for eco-friendly products. In fact, according to a report by Smithers Pira (a market research company), the global sustainable packaging market is expected to reach $370 billion by 2025.

Another important aspect is consumer demand for environmentally friendly products. With increased awareness about climate change and its impact on our planet’s health, consumers are becoming more conscious about their purchasing decisions. They prefer brands that are committed to reducing their environmental impact through sustainable practices – including those who are opting for eco-friendly packaging. A study by McKinsey reports that over 80% of consumers across age demographics showed a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging.

In addition to consumer demand, sustainability in packaging also makes economic sense for businesses. By implementing sustainable packaging solutions, companies can reduce their production costs in the long run. This is because sustainable materials are often more lightweight and require less energy to manufacture, resulting in cost savings for businesses.

To prove that this isn’t simply an elusive concept, let’s examine a study from Kearney. They surveyed 150 companies in the B2C and retail space, showing that those with circular economy models, including a focus on sustainable packaging, performed significantly better than others that did not. 

  • 32% of businesses experienced increased their revenue
  • 38% saved on their costs
  • 50% increased customer loyalty
  • The most impressive is the fact that 70% received higher brand recognition as a result of their efforts

The key takeaway? Adopting this approach isn’t just for feel-good greenwashing, it’s driven by demand.

The Top Five Sustainable Packaging Innovations of 2024:

The packaging industry is constantly evolving, and as we move towards a more sustainable future, new innovations are emerging to address the environmental impact of traditional packaging materials. Let’s delve into the top five innovations that are reshaping the future of packaging 2024:

1. Edible Packaging

An in focus hand holding a bouillon packages in a sustainable clear edible wrap. In the background out of focus there are some bowls and a cutting board on a orange counter.

Imagine a world where you can eat your packaging after enjoying the food inside it. This seemingly futuristic concept is now a reality thanks to edible packaging materials. From seaweed-based films to edible coatings, these innovative solutions offer a biodegradable and edible alternative to traditional packaging materials. Companies like WikiFoods and Loliware have been at the forefront of developing edible packaging options, utilizing natural ingredients that are safe for consumption. Not only do these solutions reduce plastic waste, but they also provide a unique and sustainable packaging experience for consumers. I’m hoping that someday soon, we’ll have more to talk about than ice cream cones, a.k.a the original pioneer of edible packaging!

2. Mushroom Packaging

Block glass bottles with a wooden dropper lid from the brand Treaty are laying flat on a sustainable mushroom foam package.

Nature more often than not provides the most ingenious solutions, and mushroom packaging is a prime example of this. Developed from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, this biodegradable packaging material offers a sustainable alternative to Styrofoam and other synthetic packaging foams. Mycelium-based packaging is not only compostable but also renewable, as it can be grown in a matter of days using agricultural waste as a substrate. Its other claim to fame is that it’s strong, light-weight and decomposes more quickly. Companies like Ecovative Design have been leading the way in utilizing mushroom packaging for various applications, including protective packaging for electronics and insulation for buildings.

3. Plant-Based Plastics

A gloved hand holding sandy and dirty plastic cups with the word eco printed in green all over them.

As we are painfully aware of, traditional plastics derived from fossil fuels are a significant contributor to environmental pollution. Plant-based plastics, on the other hand, offer a sustainable alternative by utilizing renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane, or cellulose from plants. These bio-based plastics have similar properties to conventional plastics but are biodegradable and compostable, reducing the environmental footprint associated with packaging materials. Check out NatureWorks, a company who has developed plant-based plastics that are being used in a wide range of products, from food packaging to consumer goods.

4. Recyclable Flexible Packaging

A pink candle inside a sustainable brown paper box.

Flexible packaging, like pouches and films, have gained popularity due to their lightweight and convenient design. However, traditional flexible packaging materials often pose challenges for recycling due to their complex multi-layered structure. In 2024, several innovative solutions for recyclable flexible packaging emerged, incorporating mono-material designs that are compatible with existing recycling infrastructure. These materials maintain the flexibility and barrier properties of conventional packaging while ensuring easier recyclability at the end of their life cycle. Dow and Amcor have been pioneering the development of recyclable flexible packaging solutions, driving the transition towards a circular economy. Perhaps the most innovative collaboration in terms of flexible packaging is the collaboration between Sway and Ecoenclose, who came out with a new line of packaging that replaces plastic windows with film made from seaweed.

5. Water-Soluble Packaging

A hand dipping sustainable water-soluble packaging into water and dissolving it.

Single-use plastics, such as packaging films and sachets, contribute significantly to plastic pollution, especially in marine environments. Water-soluble packaging offers a promising solution to this problem by dissolving in water, eliminating the need for disposal and reducing the risk of environmental contamination. These innovative materials are designed to dissolve safely in water without leaving behind any harmful residues, making them ideal for a wide range of applications, including single-dose packaging and detergent pods. A few noteworthy leaders in this space are SmartSolve, MonoSol and Aquapak Polymers, who have been driving the development of water-soluble packaging materials and revolutionizing the way we package and consume products.

Conclusion

I am quite hopeful that these top five sustainable packaging innovations of 2024 represent a significant leap forward in the never-ending quest for more sustainable packaging solutions. From edible packaging to water-soluble films, these innovations demonstrate the commitment of companies to reduce environmental impact while meeting the demands of consumers. As these technologies continue to evolve and gain traction, they have the potential to transform the packaging industry and pave the way towards a more sustainable future.

Do you have a sustainable packaging innovation that you’d like to share with us? Comment below and let us know!