The rapid rise of the e-commerce era has seen an equally colossal increase in plastic packaging used by brands around the world, something those at the forefront of sustainability are now looking to change.
US residents alone use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A large portion of those go into the ocean, polluting the waters and damaging wildlife with nonbiodegradable materials.
Those facts, and many more beside them, are resulting in a desperate need for change. What’s key is that the public is paying attention. A 2017 survey shows packaging professionals and brand owners hear the most complaints about unsustainable or excessive packaging.
Meanwhile, bans on things like plastic bags are starting to pay off in certain markets – in the UK, over 15 billion of them have been saved from going into landfill since it was introduced nearly four years ago. That stat is particularly significant when you think about the fact these items can take around 500 years to breakdown.
We’ve already talked about the market opportunity that exists for refillable packaging solutions for those in the health and beauty space, but this challenge is also applicable to broader retail. The good news is brands across all manner of industries, are now doubling down on eco-friendly packaging alternatives as a result. From luxury retailers to online stores, check out these eight examples of those adapting to lower their use of plastics at the delivery stage of the supply chain…
Apparel company PVH, which owns brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, has ambitious sustainability goals that include using 100% sustainably and ethically sourced packaging by 2025. “As a global apparel company, we recognize that we have a responsibility to reduce waste, and one key way to do so is by minimizing our packaging and making it recyclable,” said Marissa Pagnani-McGowan, group VP of corporate responsibility at the corporation.
The company is already making strides; according to its 2018 corporate responsibility report, 74% of its packaging is now recyclable. Moreover, the PVH Dress Furnishings Group has saved nearly 200 tons of plastic by reducing the thickness of its packaging polybags. PVH also became the first apparel company to join How2Recycle, a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. This initiative provides standard labels with clear instructions for customers on how to recycle packaging materials, such as whether to consult a local recycling program or use a store drop-off station at a participating retailer in order to save from throwing the wrapping straight into landfill.
California-based sustainable fashion brand, Toad&Co, partnered with US startup LimeLoop to replace cardboard boxes and disposable mailers with recycled vinyl packages. Customers can request the new packaging at checkout. When the product arrives, the empty container can be dropped in the mail for return and reuse.
Kelly Milazzo, director of operations at the company, estimates 2,500 LimeLoop bags – each of which supposedly last 2,000 uses – could supply the company’s entire e-commerce business for 83 years. “That saves the equivalent of 5 million plastic mailers,” she told Outside magazine.
Last year, London-based global luxury retailer, MatchesFashion.com, began developing a strategy and a timeline for reducing the environmental impact of its packaging. The retailer is known for the beauty of its boxes by its loyal customer base, meaning change comes with the additional challenge of maintaining the quality and aesthetic appeal for which it has become known.
The company made three pledges: first, to ensure all packaging is widely recyclable; second, to introduce a half-size box with less material; and third, to incorporate sustainably-sourced materials including FSC-certified card and post-consumer waste.
Premium lifestyle clothing prAna uses recycled paper and soy-based ink for its packaging, tying its garments with strips of raffia palm tree. The company had to conduct an extended series of tests to make sure the raffia strips kept products in great shape during processing and delivery. The strategy paid off, with the company becoming 80% polybag-free by 2016.
Quality control is everything however. “We have different guidelines laid out for each type of garment to show our factory how to fold, how to get the hang tag in the right position and how to put the raffia tie on”, explained Meme Snell, men’s product developer at the brand.
Amazon India is committed to eliminating single-use plastic from its packaging by June 2020. The first step is to replace plastic wraps like air pillows and bubble wraps with paper cushions, a recyclable material, by the end of this year. The company also launched Packaging-Free Shipments (PFS) last year and expanded the practice to 13 cities. By securing multiple shipments together in a reusable crate or corrugated box, Amazon can minimize the secondary packaging required for individual shipments.
Meanwhile, Amazon US began encouraging brands to change their packaging design to facilitate shipping, making the process more sustainable. For example, Tide is planning to switch from its existing bottle to a new “Eco-Box” with 60% less plastic.
Reformation is paving the way for other young, trend-led brands to be sustainable, implementing an environmental consciousness into every aspect of its business. Reformation delivers its e-commerce orders in vegetable bags which are 100% compostable. Once the bag has been used, it was simply break down like organic waste, leaving no harmful chemicals behind.
The packaging is plastic-free and made from 100% recycled paper products and compostable bio-based films, with even the hangers being bio-based too. With the average lifespan of a plastic or metal hanger lasting only 3 months, Reformation has opted to use recycled paper hangers to minimise the demand for new materials and reduce landfill waste.
E-commerce giant ASOS has put packaging and waste at the forefront of its environmental policy. After a cradle-to-gate assessment revealed that plastic bags produce 60% less GHG emissions than cardboard, the company decided to reduce the number of cardboard boxes in favour of the former.
To mitigate the environmental damage of its plastics, ASOS uses 25% recycled content for the bags. The company has also reduced the thickness of the bags, which is saving approximately 583 tonnes of plastic annually.
The retailer is also working towards having a closed-loop system, recycling consumer packaging into new packaging. Having 10% post-consumer waste integrated into the new bags helps to reduce virgin plastic usage by 160 tonnes annually.
New Zealand based womenswear designed Maggie Marilyn is focusing on an often forgotten part of the supply chain when it comes to sustainability, using compostable bags to ship wholesale items. The bags which are made from cornstarch and synthetic polymer, represent a 60% reduction in C02 emissions compared to traditional plastic bags. The bags are produced by The Better Packaging Company, who have achieved one of the toughest standard regulations in Australia, the AS5810 for compostability.
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