Trends In Packaging: Sustainability

Trends are an important concept to any business. They reflect increasing consumer or producer demand, what worked for other businesses in your industry, and influence the way we and our customers see the world around us. Additionally, they help brands communicate their value by tapping into what those trends represent and can help your business appear modern and fresh.

This year when creating our Trends In Packaging series, we saw some similarities to last year, including a committed focus to sustainability, minimalist design, exploration of alternative materials, and nostalgia. We also saw some differences, including more 3D design elements, use of mascots, illustrative designs, and more.

In 2023, brands will want their packaging to heavily emphasize sustainability, the planet, and doing right by the environment. We’ll see a far greater reliance on paper this year than any other material.

To help you make sense of all these trends, we’ve compiled the Trends In Packaging series. In this part of the series, we’ll talk about sustainability. Other parts of the series will talk about trends in graphic design and structure and function.

Paper, Not Plastic

A paper bag. One trend in packaging for 2023 is that consumers will look to switch from plastic to other materials, particularly paper.

One of the bigger trends in packaging of 2023 will see brands switching from plastic to paper packaging products.

Customers are wary of the impact plastic packaging has on the environment and are starting to read about and hear about the challenges involved with recycling plastic food packaging. As consumers grow more environmentally conscious, they’ll want to see their favorite products come in environmentally friendly food packaging. For many consumers, that environmentally friendly food packaging will be paper.

It’s easy to understand why consumers view paper as a better option than plastic. It’s natural, widely recyclable, and capable of a high standard of performance. Of all the substrates on the market today, paper has the strongest reputation for environmental friendliness.

Brands that want to take action will, like their customers, explore switching from plastic to paper.

Neither Paper Nor Plastic

Another trend in packaging for 2023 will be the use of alternative materials like this image of molded fiber plates, bowls, and hinged containers.

Of course, paper from trees isn’t the only environmentally friendly packaging product. Some entrepreneurial brands are already exploring alternative materials, including mushrooms, bagasse, bamboo, and other materials. IKEA, for instance, replaced its use of Styrofoam with mushroom-based packaging in 2020. As companies look to become more eco-friendly, expect more brands to investigate and use these and other kinds of alternative materials.

How Inno-Pak can help: We make our molded fiber plates, bowls, and hinged containers from natural fibers from agricultural byproducts that are renewable, compostable, and excellent for making customer-friendly packaging. Learn more about our molded fiber plates and bowls or hinged containers.

Improving Recyclability

A third trend in packaging for 2023 will be brands trying to improve their recyclability. This image depicts bundles of recycled paper waiting to be reused.

In addition to reviewing the materials used in packaging, another 2023 trend in packaging will be improving recyclability.

Food and food packaging are two of the topmost contributors to generated waste. In fact, packaging and containers, which includes but isn’t limited to food packaging, make up almost a quarter of the waste in our country’s landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Unfortunately, it isn’t so easy as trying to recycle food packaging. Recycling food packaging is a challenge. It’s estimated that only 9 percent of plastic gets recycled; the rest get incinerated or put into landfills. Additionally, the use of multiple materials in some food packages poses challenges for recyclers to sort so many of them end up diverted from recyclers to landfills. Lastly, some materials, such as paper, are limited in how many times they can be recycled before new, virgin material must be mixed in.

As brands look to win over sustainability minded customers, they’re going to need to make sure their packaging is easy to recycle and effective. Expect to see brands switch up their materials usage to avoid difficult to recycle packaging in favor of packaging that recyclers can easily identify and use time and time again. In particular, expect to see fewer plastic containers with black bases and more white bases or clear plastic containers.

Compostable Packaging: Good for Business. Good for the Earth.

As an alternative to improving the recyclability of products, many brands will instead turn their packaging into an environmental benefit.

Commercially compostable packaging is designed to break down in nutrient-rich organics. This accomplishes two important objectives. First, it diverts food and packaging waste away from landfills. Second, it supports the environment by putting nutrients back into the soil when it’s used in gardens or on farms. Instead of taking up space in a landfill and decomposing slowly, commercially compostable packaging supports the environment that in turn sustains us.

How Inno-Pak can help: our Planet+ and Stalk Market Compostable Products lines are commercially compostable. These products include plates, bowls, hinged containers, cutlery, hot cups, cold cups, food containers, and many more items. Learn more on our products page.

Pass on the PFAS

Even if you haven’t been paying attention to food packaging trends, you’ve likely heard of PFAS by now. PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of chemicals that are used in a number of products, including some food packages. It’s been tied to a number of negative health effects and doesn’t break down in the environment. As a result, many customers want to avoid PFAS, and some states are looking to regulate their uses.

The states of Washington, California, Maine, Vermont, and New York have already enacted some level of PFAS ban. Hawaii, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Maryland, and Colorado have passed laws that takes effect later this year or next year. However, the bans only prohibit the use of products with intentionally-added PFAS.

Brands will react to these bans by developing no intentionally-added PFAS products that satisfy the legal requirements and meet consumer demand at the same time. They’ll also explore other types of additives that can accomplish similar results as PFAS without the environmental or health concerns.

How Inno-Pak can help: Our new Stalk Market 9” No Intentionally-Added PFAS Molded Fiber Plates are an environmentally-friendly solution to tableware in all states. These plates are made from natural, sustainable, and commercially compostable fibers and are great for hot dogs, sandwiches, fries, potato salad, and other types of food.

Regulatory Confusion

As states began to tackle PFAS bans, we saw a lot of regulatory confusion. We expect to see more confusing messaging as more and more states look to take action against PFAS.

Each state is approaching PFAS regulations in a different way and legislators’ messaging has been confusing, resulting in a patchwork of laws and regulations rather than a standard, uniform approach. Many municipalities have also decided to enter the fray and pass their own regulations, which make the rights and responsibilities of businesses murkier. Several bans are worded poorly enough that manufacturers, restaurants, and grocery stores will be unable to understand their limitations.

Brands navigating these uncertain times will want to have a strong and well versed guide in their corner, someone who can help them with making sure they’re prepared for the changes.

How to Use This Trend In Packaging

A collage of commercially compostable products by Inno-Pak

Sustainability isn’t the most important factor in making a purchase for most consumers, but it is solidly in the mix of factors consumers weigh. If price or quality are similar, a product’s environmental qualities may be the deciding factor between two competing products. Boosting your environmental portfolio could very well boost your bottom line, too.

If you’re not already, consider using commercially compostable packaging. These environmentally friendly solutions turn your packaging into a boon for the environment by becoming nutrient rich compost. They can help you develop your business’s sustainability reputation and, when coupled with our custom print program, tell your sustainability story. At Inno-Pak, we have two lines of commercially compostable solutions for you, our Planet+ and Stalk Market Compostable Products.

Outside of compostable packaging, review the materials you’re using in your packaging to reduce plastic, use more paper or natural fibers, improve recyclability, and minimize your environmental impact. Ask your suppliers if their packaging uses intentionally-added PFAS or not and then ask for proof of those claims.

Of course, once you switch to environmentally friendly packaging (or if you’re already doing so), you’ll want to make sure you’re telling your sustainability story at every turn. Customers want to buy sustainable goods, but 35 to 36 percent of them want more availability and better labeling for environmental packages. At the same time, labeling helps you educate your consumers and prove your claims to an audience wary of greenwashing.