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Unwrapping the future of sustainable packaging

Plastic packaging and three rolls of tape
Sticker Mule/Unsplash
May 25, 2022 By WGSN Insider

Packaging is relevant to all consumer industries and is increasingly coming under the spotlight. WGSN looks at the alternatives that are better for the planet. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest climate report reminds us that time has nearly run out to meet the 1.5°C warming target of the Paris Agreement. With news reports of microplastics being present in human blood and the ongoing climate emergency, it’s clear we need to take drastic action in reducing plastic waste and greenhouse gas emissions. So what alternatives are out there when it comes to wrapping up and protecting our products, and how much do consumers really care?

WGSN’s Executive Editorial Director Bethan Ryder speaks to three of our in-house experts, Katie Raath, Senior Trend Forecaster for Packaging; Claire Lancaster, Senior Strategist for Food & Drink; and Helen Palmer, Head of Materials & Textiles for Fashion.

We find out more about the challenges and opportunities sustainable packaging poses to product design industries, as well as the difference between biodegradability and compostability that brands should be aware of in their quest to reduce harmful packaging.

Hand putting bottle in cardboard box
Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

‘Biodegradable’ versus ‘compostable’

“Biodegradable is a great word because it sounds like this must be really natural. The catch is, everything is pretty much biodegradable, so the problem is your average plastic bottle is going to take about 400 years [to biodegrade]. If you think about it that way, everything is biodegradable.

“Compostable is actually a much better word, and home compostable is a much better measure, because to be home compostable it should break down within six months and not leave any microplastics in the soil.”
– Katie Raath, Senior Trend Forecast & Editor, WGSN

Plastic bottle among branches on beach
Catherine Sheila/Pexels

The regenerative economy

“There are some amazing revolutionary new materials emerging. Vivomer by Shellworks is made from brewing soil and marine microbes. They harvest the fat that’s created in that process and the material can break down in landfill, home compost or compost in marine conditions within 12 months.

“It doesn’t leave any microplastics and even improves the quality of the soil if composted. We’ve talked generally about consumer mindsets shifting from sustainability as being something that’s not bad for the environment to interest in regenerative – something that can actually regenerate the environment and improve it as you use it.”
– Claire Lancaster, Senior Strategist, WGSN Food & Drink

Seedling germinating from soil
Sushobhan Badhai/Unsplash

Leave no trace

“I’m really excited about water-soluble packaging because it follows another sustainable route, which is ‘leave no trace’. The brilliant ocean-safe Leave No Trace polybag polymer that breaks down into biomass in soil and water has been used by brands such as Finisterre – nice storytelling because for a surf brand they’re very much about clean water and protecting the environment.”
– Helen Palmer, Head of Materials & Textiles, WGSN Fashion

To hear the full discussion tune into episode 50 of our Create Tomorrow podcast, Unwrapping the Future of Sustainable Packaging, on Anchor, Apple and Spotify.

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