Eco-watch: Brands tackle sustainable packaging

Pigeon Brands' Elyse Boulet discusses how major players are applying innovative solutions to the packaging conundrum.


In recent months, many large brands have thrown their hats (made of recycled materials of course) into the sustainability ring, pledging to eliminate plastics, such as straws and bags, or to divert food from landfills. Last week, Wendy’s joined the long queue of global companies announcing their commitment to advancing sustainable packaging solutions, identifying new and existing cup solutions to optimize the hot and cold fiber cup.

Espousing sustainable practices has the potential to pay off. Seventy-one percent of Canadians are placing a higher importance on sustainable food packaging than they did five years ago, according to a 2018 survey by paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper. The study also found that 37% of respondents “would be open to paying up to 10% more” for products with sustainable packaging.

The trend has many companies and their marketers eyeing sustainable packaging as the next frontier in CSR, but their efforts have been met with significant challenges, says Elyse Boulet, SVP and national managing director of Pigeon Brands. “It’s not that brands don’t want to go there,” she says. “It’s that the barriers are very high.”

Tide-Eco-boxFor one thing, brands face regulatory hurdles. Boulet notes that the infrastructure for recycling biodegradable or recyclable materials differs by jurisdiction, often at the municipal level. There are also food safety concerns, especially with new and innovative materials. And some brands have eschewed recycled plastic, because the colours available with alternative materials are limited. It’s that line of thinking that made Tide go from plastic to carton.

Launched in November 2018, the Tide “eco-box” contains a sealed bag of Tide liquid detergent and is made with 60% less plastic and 30% less water than the brand’s current press-tap container. The design has the added benefit of being light-weight and free of secondary re-boxing materials, thanks its its carton shape.

It will take time for the industry to overcome packaging challenges, and brands will need to avoid “greenwashing” when doing so, Boulet says, emphasizing that sustainability “storytelling needs to be authentic and credible.” But she adds that there’s an opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves in the packaging milieu by “being original in their sustainable thinking.”

DanoneFor example, Pigeon helped Danone reduce Oikos yogurt’s over-wrap packaging, while maintaining efficiency, and “forcing ourselves to look at the available space on the shelf.” The design simultaneously increased shopability and shelf impact by turning the containers’ top panels into the messaging platform.  “It’s less costly to produce the packaging as a result,” says Boulet.

Mexican beer giant Corona recently worked on replacing the plastic ring used to haul around a six-pack in favour of a biodegradable fiber eco-pack (which is currently being tested in Mexico, see featured image above).

Of all the companies making strides, Boulet believes Canada’s TerraCycle is at the forefront of the packaging revolution. The company’s business model is predicated upon re-purposing traditionally non-recyclable waste products. P&G’s Head & Shoulders brand partnered on a program with TerraCycle to pick up plastic on beaches, and created packaging based on that waste, the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle.

Earlier this year, TerraCycle unveiled Loop, a subscription-based reusable packaging program geared towards the CPG industry. Many of the largest CPG companies, from PepsiCo to Unilever, have already signed on for when the program launches in Canada later this year or early next. And TerraCycle recently inked a deal wtih Tide, a strategic partnership that will allow the new Tide Eco-Box packaging to be 100% recyclable from bag to box.

Photo credits (via Pigeon Brands): Corona, courtesy of Parley for the Oceans; Tide,  courtesy of Yahoo Finance; Oikos, courtesy of Pigeon Brands.