Take a moment and try to remember everything you threw in the trash this week. Go ahead, try it. Statistics suggest that at least 65 percent of your household’s trash came from packaging. Now factor in your neighbors. Your city. The state. The country.
If you can’t quite do the math on that, don’t worry, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already done it for you. According to the EPA, Americans produce nearly 80 million tons of waste per year in packaging alone—the equivalent of 200 Empire State Buildings.
When landfilled or incinerated, it becomes pollution, waste that poisons the environment—that’s our air, soil, and water—and poses health risks to both people and wildlife. In fact, packaging waste is the number one contributor to plastic pollution in our oceans; at current rates, it’s projected to exceed the weight of all the fish on our planet by 2050.
Unfortunately, the Food & Beverage (F&B) industry is a big part of the problem—but there’s good news to be found here, too. As some of the largest contributors of packaging waste, F&B brands can play a huge role in making a difference; and truth be told, it’s also our responsibility to try.
The sweeping decision for brands to do away with plastic straws in 2018 was just the beginning. Consumer packaging in the beverage world spans everything from the rings around soda cans and bottles to the containers themselves, their labels and closures, as well as any materials by which they are shipped and stored.
Driven by rising consumer awareness of the impact of product packaging on ongoing environmental issues—like food and material waste, pollution, and climate change—sustainability has become a significant motivator for consumer purchase decisions.
Your beverage’s packaging should not only support your drink and business, but also take care to reduce any negative impact on the environment. Smart packaging decisions require thoughtful consideration of the various elements involved in packaging a beverage product as well as the sustainable alternatives that might be available to you.
Here are 3 approaches to achieving more sustainable drink packaging:
1. Choose the most efficiently recycled packaging materials.
Not all packaging materials are created equally. Take plastic for example. While all plastics are not necessarily recyclable, many utilized in the beverage industry can be. Plastics are assigned across seven categories based on their Resin Identification Codes (RIC), distinguished by the temperature at which the material has been heated. This numerical classification can tell you what type of plastic it is you’re dealing with—and whether it’s recyclable.
PET (or polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are clear, strong, lightweight and 100 percent recyclable plastic; however there is a limit to how many times this material can be recycled before degrading substantially in quality—two-to-three times before, to be specific. This happens because every time PET plastic is recycled, its polymer chain grows shorter, and even then, additional “virgin” material needs to be added to make it durable enough to go back into the market. In other words, “recycled” plastic may not actually be completely re-used material.
This is a big reason why other highly recyclable materials are considered much more sustainable drink packaging options. Glass and metal (usually aluminum) can be recycled indefinitely without sacrificing on quality or durability, and without adding additional virgin material.
Again, there’s always a tradeoff: where plastic is lightweight and durable, glass is heavy and delicate, making shipping a challenge. Cans offer a great balance of desirable qualities for drink packaging and sustainability, but there are ongoing supply chain issues that have (at least for now) made it difficult for beverage companies to obtain them reliably.
2. Dedicate some space on your label to educate your consumers.
At this point you should know that the type of packaging materials you pick does matter. The easiest products to recycle are generally those made from a single, recyclable material; of course, the onus still lies with the consumer to actually choose to recycle the product. This is where investing in consumer awareness and education can make an impact.
Brands can help things along by calling attention to the recyclability of their product’s packaging, and by putting in the extra effort to tell consumers exactly how to do it. In fact, it’s in their best interest to do so. According to Chicago-based Mintel’s Global Packaging Trends 2019 report, it is becoming increasingly common for consumers to request the ability to recycle, and they are interested in understanding how the recycling process really works. This is great news for beverage brands serious about making a positive impact.
The Coca-Cola Co. for example recently introduced the standardized labeling system “How2Recycle” across packaging for its DASANI products. The addition—which has also been utilized by other F&B brands such as Walmart, Target, Nestlé, and General Mills—is designed to both educate and encourage consumers to take advantage of the option to recycle a product’s packaging materials after use.
3. Leverage sustainability in your product’s marketing and/or brand.
Why not make environmentalism a pillar your brand is known for? Companies pairing sustainable drink packaging initiatives with thoughtful consumer education and marketing have found great success in generating meaningful change without sacrificing their bottom line.
Boxed Water Is Better was founded in 2009 with a brand identity completely focused on the company’s commitment to sustainability. As the name suggests, their mission is to offer the most environmentally friendly alternative to plastic water bottles on the market.
Their purified, mineral-free water is packaged in a 100-percent recyclable, almost entirely plant-based carton. The packaging also comprises 75 percent FSC-certified paper and 5 percent aluminum with a protective plastic film lining. Even their closure is plant-based.
Not only has the guilt-free box design allowed them to attract eco-conscious consumers to their brand while substantially reducing their carbon footprint, but it has also made shipping more logistically and financially efficient. For every 26 trucks required to ship plastic water bottles, only a single truck is needed to transport the same number of Boxed Water products. Everyone wins.
Whether you choose to utilize one of these approaches or all three, taking steps to provide more sustainable drink packaging should be a priority for any beverage brand—and it doesn’t have to be a detriment to your business! We hope we’ve shown you that you can change the world and change what the world is drinking.
If you’ve got a great drink idea, Flavorman can help you bring it to life! Get started by filling out this webform or by giving us a call at (502) 273-5214.