The packaging landscape is changing and today it’s not enough for goods simply to be protected by the packaging that surrounds it. Instead, the materials must work toward reducing a brand’s environmental impact.

Today 52% of consumers cite their buying habits are based on the social responsibility of a company’s packaging strategy. With this in mind, can businesses risk alienating over half of their potential customers by ignoring this market trend?

Not only are consumer attitudes changing, but government is working towards an overhaul in the packaging industry. The European Union has guidelines in place that mandate that by 2030 75% of all packaging waste must be recycled as standard. With more than 100 million tonnes of packaging waste produced by the UK alone, Brexit may be on the horizon but this does not mean guidelines can be thwarted.

Futuristic Farms

Today, farm land is increasingly used for niche markets such as plastics, skin care products and petroleum additives.

David Turley, lead executive of the National Non-Food Crop Centre, acts as formal liaison link between that organization and the UK Government and says that great interest in the bio-economy. "We are now taking ethanol [from wheat] to make plastics. It’s an emerging market that I think will become huge as large brands become concerned about sustainability. I would expect many more plants to be grown for plastics.”

Currently in the UK, around 100 hectares are planted for crops of this nature. But the future looks bright for unconventional materials in the packaging industry.

Here are a few brands that are considered to be leaders in packaging innovation.


On Aug. 1, 2016 UK supermarket Waitrose launched two pasta products with packaging made from 15% waste peas and pulses that didn’t meet quality standards during the pasta production process. The packaging produces 20% fewer emissions, does not require a plastic sleeve within the pack, reduces the use of virgin tree pulp and is 100% recyclable.

Waitrose is using pasta packaging made, in part, from waste food produce.Waitrose is using pasta packaging made, in part, from waste food produce.In 2015 the brand introduced egg boxes made from a combination of ryegrass and paper. The boxes use 60% less water during production and release 15% less CO2 compared to standard pulp egg boxes. Like the pasta packaging, they too are 100% recyclable.


Polystyrene or Styrofoam has been a staple in the packaging industry for almost 100 years. Thanks to its heat-resistant structure it is seen typically in “to-go” food containers. Its lightweight nature also lends itself to ball form as a cushioning product to protect fragile goods in transit. However, this material is known to leach toxins into the earth once it is landfilled. It can cause a choking hazard for wildlife and has a relatively large carbon footprint owing to its petroleum base.

A replacement product is being championed by Dell, among others. This material is known as “mushroom packaging” and the material is grown rather than manufactured. The mushroom’s thread-like roots grow around clean agricultural waste material to form a product that has similar characteristics to Styrofoam.

Dell is making use of packaging material made in part from a mushroom-growing process.Dell is making use of packaging material made in part from a mushroom-growing process.Of course, this in an innovate product which is available primarily to large companies with budgets to match. Even so, small businesses can adopt plant starch materials that are readily available today. PSM are 100% biodegradable and are commonly grown from corn and potatoes. Not only are these having a positive impact on the environment, but loose fill packing can be bought in bulk at a low cost, making it relatively easy for smaller businesses to adopt.


Ferrero’s confectionary corporation rank as the world’s fourth-argest buyer of hazelnuts, accounting for more than 25% of the world’s supply. And with hazelnut products come hazelnut shells.

The confectionary producer has been developing a paper product using waste hazelnut shells, which are currently incinerated. This product, though not on the market yet, will replace paper-board cartons in the Ferrero Rocher packaging.

EcoPaper” allows for the waste to be dry milled and repurposed. It was found during the design process that the new product enjoys a thicker volume and increased stiffness than current packaging, while using the same amount of material.

The Future of the Packaging Industry

By repurposing agricultural fields and investing in design that closes the gap of product lifecycles, materials engineers are edging closer to a sustainable lifestyle across all industries. These packaging products may seem futuristic at present, but their adoption is spreading. With the EU 2030 targets still far from being met, small businesses are being encouraged to adopt sustainable products and work toward adopting eco-friendly packaging solutions.

Author: Suzanne Vallance is a writer for the packaging industry and works at

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