Sustainable packaging and labelling - the future beckons, but is it good enough?

Ever in search of optimal sustainability I am a regular attendee of the Packaging and Labelling Fairs, intent on discovering what is new and evolving.

It's a strangely uplifting experience as all suppliers are having to up their game in terms of sustainability. This year, instead of being a confined section of the Fair, it was ubiquitous. New and innovative products which actually deliver for the planet, and potential buyers all posing the same question- "Is it eco, sustainable, recyclable". So demand is moving in the right direction...but there is so much more to do.

First off we still need clarity.

Why is Kraft paper and card better for the environment?

Paper is made from pulp fibres which shorten each time they are recycled. Paper products can generally be recycled 4-6 times, and at the end of life are fundamentally compostable as long as they are pure/ un-laminated, and only printed on with natural dies. More work to do here...

Kraft paper is made by separating the cellulose from the lignin in trees to produce wood pulp using chemicals. It is stronger as it is is unbleached, and can utilise a far broader array of source trees. Almost all the chemicals used in the process are recovered and reused, so it is a self-sustaining method. The principal byproducts which are not recycled are turpentine and tall oil, which are used for other manufacturing purposes. 

Kraft packaging is now fairly standard, although still highly dominated by China who manage to produce so cost effectively that they blow the competition out of the water. A lot of paper and card shipped around the world due to one dominant supplier is not ideal. Designers are working with minimalism in mind, but I feel that we need the cost of production in Europe to fall before this dominance is dented.

There is an increasing amount of tinware and cardboard tube options, all sustainable and recyclable, which present an alternative to the standard box packaging.

Tissue bags made of transparent FSC certified paper with invisible vent holes look elegant, are recyclable and water resistant. These make a great alternative to the plastic bag...more pricey but at least there is an option.

Stretch wrapping sourced from responsibly managed forests is now available to replace the acreage of cling film used on pallets, which is a welcome addition.

Recyclable void fill is now fairly standard, and flexi pack style wrapping is now offering lots of options which can wrap around the product and be reused rather than collected and recycled.

And luxury sustainable ribbon, made from Tencel, a 100% bio-based fibre created using Eucalyptus and Spruce trees, produced in an almost completely closed loop process, means we no longer have to go the polyester/ plastic route here.

Liquid containers and samples continue to pose a problem, although I did come across an eco-friendly laminate pouch, and some sample tubes which were made of a high percentage of bio-materials...getting there I suppose, but not there yet on the containment of creams and liquids.

So all in all a heartening experience, but we need to make demands to ensure packaging continues in its pace of evolution, and above all ask all the difficult questions as to how materials are made and exactly what the recycling or composting process looks like.

Perfino's latest packaging is 100% compostable being pure Kraft card derived.

Our scent samples come in corn starch envelopes, also compostable.

Our glass bottles are recyclable as are the aluminium lids.

The oil will dissipate into the air over time, and the jewellery, recycled at source, is designed to last a lifetime.

But we will be keeping a close eye on the packaging and labelling market, trying to source closer to home wherever possible, and being conscious that we will always need to explain what we mean when we say our product is sustainable - so do please keep asking 🙏

December 03, 2021 — Kim Brookes