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Sustainable packaging goes beyond traditional recycling

When buying food and beverage items, consumers are looking for delicious treats and drinks, but younger consumers are also looking to enjoy products that can help the environment. The average consumer is more aware that single-use containers, often made of plastic, are negatively affecting the environment. A Consumer Brands Association report found 86% of Americans believe we are experiencing a packaging and plastic waste crisis. What are producers doing to address this crisis?

CPG brands create their own sustainability solutions

Most legacy food and beverage companies have set sustainability goals for their organizations. Many of those goals include increased availability of products that come in sustainable packaging.

Conagra, Nestle and Unilever all made recent pledges to increase sustainable materials in their packaging over the next five years. Conagra intends to make all of its plastic containers renewable, recyclable or compostable while Nestle and Unilever both signed the European Plastics Pact, which designates that participants are committed to boosting the recycled plastic content for single-use products and creating reusable packaging.

In California, PepsiCo is testing a better substitute for plastic rings on beverage six-packs: molded pulp and paperboard packaging. This trial demonstrates how CPG producers are working to address customer desires for sustainable packaging that still fills the durability needs of companies.

“[W]e’ve worked collaboratively with our suppliers to ensure the two solutions that we’re testing meet the needs of our consumers and customers while also addressing our functionality and sustainability requirements,” Emily Silver, PepsiCo Beverages North America’s vice president of innovation and marketing capabilities, said to BeverageDaily.

While many brands are creating their own packaging solutions or reducing their virgin plastic use, several are also investing in a broader eco-friendly packaging infrastructure. Nestle is planning to purchase roughly $1.6 billion worth of recycled plastic over the next five years, and Perrier has launched an investment program for startups that are developing packaging options that have a “positive environmental and social impact.”

Loop takes reusing to the masses

Rather than simply reducing or recycling virgin plastic, some companies are addressing waste by offering accessible, reusable packaging. Recycling business TerraCycle debuted its circular delivery service Loop to consumers in 2019, and it is currently available in Paris, France, and the northeast region of the US.

Loop’s online platform allows users to shop for consumer packaged goods products in reusable packaging from a variety of brands, which are shipped in a reusable container -- the Loop Tote -- that rids the need for single-use shipping materials.

“While disposable design focuses on making our packaging as cheap as possible, durable design focuses on making containers as long lasting as possible, allowing us to access unparalleled materials, design, and function,” the Loop site states. After using up the products, Loop customers return the empty packaging via free UPS pickup where it is returned to Loop to be cleaned and disinfected in preparation for reuse.

“Customers are demanding that brands step up and provide solutions that produce less waste,” said Loop Publicist Eric Rosen. “Brands are responding to this push by investing in sustainable packaging solutions such as Loop’s reuse model.”

The service is currently available online, but Loop products will be available in Walgreens and Kroger retail locations in the US later in 2020. Once Loop products arrive at retail, customers will also be able to make in-store returns of reusable containers instead of shipping them.

Loop’s brand partners include food brands such as Haagen Dazs, Hidden Valley, Tropicana and Chameleon Cold Brew. The service also offers personal care and cleaning products from brands such as Gillette, Dove, Tide and Clorox. Rosen said that Loop welcomes participation from any type or size of CPG brand as long as they are committed to transforming their packaging from single-use to multi-use.

“One challenge is redesigning packaging that lasts many reuse cycles,” Rosen said. “Brands must find the right material and design to suit their product. TerraCycle acts as a consultant for the packaging development process and tests all packaging for cleanability and durability prior to approval in the platform.”

Rosen also revealed that Loop will be expanding internationally in 2020. Loop will partner with Tesco in the UK, Loblaws in Canada and Aeon in Japan. The platform also plans to be available in Germany and Australia in 2021.

“Consumers can support brands that are taking the next step from recyclable packaging to reusable packaging,” said Rosen. “[R]ecycling is never going to be enough to solve waste at the root cause.”

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