Packaging has been used for thousands of years. It truly serves a purpose — protecting products from damage, conveying information to consumers and enabling transportation are just some of its important functions. But over the last 50 years, the choice of materials, production processes, packaging use and afterlife has contributed to creating an industry that is one of the most wasteful and polluting industries out there. Together with the expected exponential growth of the middle class by 2030, the increase in global demand for products and packaging will put extra pressure on the environmental impact — and consequences — of the current packaging industry.*
Currently 59% of plastic waste comes from packaging,* with 95% of plastic packaging value lost to the economy after one use cycle.* Recycling rates are growing but even when packaging has been recycled, it does not necessarily mean that it will be used again. Today, only 41% of the original material value remains after one use cycle.*
It’s clear that the current packaging value chain is up for a makeover — and there’s no better time than now. However, the journey won’t be easy. Unconventional collaboration across disciplinary boundaries is needed when renewing and redesigning systems, processes and business models and building a circular economy. It’s essential that we start seeing the interconnectedness of different elements at play here — ensuring that technology, materials, design and customer experience all work together to connect the dots towards the future of packaging.
We see four pillars that will help aid the transformation of the packaging industry into a restorative and regenerative system by design.
1. Where physical meets digital
Technology is an important tool for the packaging industry to leverage, with many opportunities to tap into when it comes to fusing physical and digital. For example, asset tracking, micro transactions and smart packaging can all facilitate extended producer responsibility as well as product-as-a-service models. Questions you can ask yourself include: What data can you collect? And how can you improve user interaction through digital?
2. Material innovation is happening
Moving to renewable and restorative materials is a key enabler for the future of packaging. However, the solution is not as straightforward as we sometimes hope for. Every package is created with different requirements, and needs, and that will result in a variety of material choices. For example, in some scenarios, a plastic that is recycled and reused well might be a preferable option to paper packaging. Knowing and optimising the use and after use of your material will make or break your product.
3. User experience back at the center
As mentioned earlier on in this post, packaging has a lot of benefits, ranging from protecting the packaged goods to informing consumers. Often a potential that is not fully optimised. To maximise potential of this moment of interaction between user and packaged goods, design and branding play an important role. By using an interactive process, use and users are prompted to understand, assumptions are challenged and problems redefined in an attempt to identify strategies and solutions that push the boundaries of what we have done so far. One key element to achieve this is by visualising and prototyping in every stage of the process, allowing us to not only think about a future of packaging, but also to envision it.
4. Towards a circular future
Rather than the traditional take-make-dispose model, circular economy gives us a compelling vision for the future of packaging. Today, we have an abundance of resources and materials that have already been created, which if kept in the system, can support a prosperous economy. However, the transition to get there is complex, and involves many stakeholders. The concept of a circular economy might sound straightforward at first sight, but requires sophistication in order to be carried out successfully, from choice of ownership of the product or packaging, to material choices and post-consumer system design. Therefore, we maintain that this innovation needs to be systemic in nature – harnessing the potential of future materials, digital transformation as well as new dynamic relationships.
De-siloing how we work
Connecting the dots requires a new way of working. This includes working together with partners across the whole packaging value chain, from research institutes to brands and all the players in between to scale up a new era of more engaging, economical and sustainable packaging solutions. How are you set up for the future of packaging?
Keen to get to know more about how we are doing that? Stay tuned for our next blog posts in this series, where we will dive deeper into the four pillars that support a shift towards the future of packaging.
Get in touch!
Liselotte Tingvall, Executive Advisor Insight & Innovation
Kinge Gardien, Circular Economy & Client Manager