Sustainability impacts the conversation around packaging as consumers become progressively more aware of the impact brands have on the environment. Sustainability is especially important among younger consumers. According to “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail,” a survey from digital testing platform First Insight, the majority of consumers responding to the survey prefer to buy from sustainable brands. As a result, brands and manufacturers are adjusting their offerings accordingly to resonate better. Many food brands, for example, use recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging. 

This sustainability trend has reached retail outlets. At least one supermarket and leading pharmacy are validating the reusable packaging concept, according to the “Trend and Advances in Food Packaging and Processing” report from PMMI. The report also mentions a circular online shopping platform conducting a pilot and offering more than 100 products in reusable packaging — including food, beverages, health and beauty and non-food items. The leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies participating in the U.S. pilot redesigned durable reusable containers in glass or metal that after use are collected, cleaned, refilled and reused.

An innovative personalized hydration platform has emerged in a reusable bottle, the report states. Consumers can refill the bottle with water or, if they’re looking for a flavored refreshing beverage, add a snap-on flavor pod to the top. Embracing the reuse movement, consumers can send the bag of used pods to a third party to take care of recycling.

Another way packaging is becoming more sustainable is with recyclable and compostable alternatives that use novel substrates to avoid plastic and decrease degradation times once discarded. A new cream-colored container, which is fiber based and similar in texture to cardboard, is now certified as home compostable. It also can be heated in the oven and microwave, remaining cool to the touch even after cooking.

The move toward sustainable practices, products and materials is driving a lot of the innovation in our industry, and leading to an increased use of recycled materials, as well as a reduction in the amount of packaging overall. Manufacturers are implementing more environmentally conscious packaging, introducing redesigns to reduce packaging footprint, carefully monitoring and reducing material usage and waste from the factory floor, and using more biodegradable materials.

In the flexible packaging market, packagers are looking at strains of film that facilitate package breakdown after a set time period (well after the end of the product shelf life), which helps the plastic degrade faster in landfills, according to PMMI’s “Flexible Packaging Market Assessment.” Starch-based and biodegradable films also are being developed.

Flexible packaging options also allow companies to slim down packaging and drive sustainability with options such as the use of 3D printing and packaging with eco-friendly and lightweight materials.

The latest sustainable solutions can be found at PACK EXPO International and Healthcare Packaging EXPO (Nov. 8-11; McCormick Place, Chicago). Produced by PMMI, the show offers a projected 30,000 attendees the opportunity to gather insights from more than 2,000 exhibiting companies over 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space as well as network with industry peers.  On floor education will feature a Sustainability track, featuring topics and solutions for sustainability highlighted with the PE Green Icon. 

The show will also feature the Reusable Packaging Pavilion, in partnership with the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA), convening over 40 exhibiting companies where attendees can see the latest innovations in reusable packaging. The adjoining Reusable Packaging Learning Center is the premier education event hosting presentations and panel discussions on a variety of topics related to sustainability and reuse. RPA’s annual Excellence in Reusable Packaging Award is also presented. Register at