It’s 2016; waste remains one of the biggest challenges we face globally, and customers are increasingly expecting nothing less than eco-conscious packaging solutions. But despite efforts to create sustainable recyclable packaging, the industry is still a massive part of the problem. In the Unites states alone, recyclable post-consumer packaging, worth an estimated $11.4 billion, gets wasted every year. So what are we doing wrong?

“Packaging companies have a critical role to play, listening to needs in terms of collection and reprocessing, ensuring design is simple for deconstruction, reuse and recycling”
– Jim McCelland

We need to concentrate a little more on biodegradable packaging, rather than just making something recyclable. With this in mind, there has been a huge response to consumer concerns about the environmental impact of packaging. Some of them, a little kookier than others:

  1. Luxury brands offer packaging their customers won’t want to throw away

Some brands have created a way for packaging to not be thrown away at all. For example, the iconic “Tiffany’s blue box” is recognised worldwide as something that’s perceived almost as valuable as the contents, so Tiffany’s customers want to keep them.

The role of the humble carrier bag is also becoming more important, especially since supermarkets now charge 5p for them. People are beginning to keep the previously disposed of bags more and more as they’ve paid for them, so they can reuse next time they pop to the shop.

Not to mention the luxury bags that brands such as Dior provide for their customers. The beauty, sophistication and practicality of these bags attached to such luxury brand names make them as desirable as what’s inside.

It’s even happening with plastic bottles. Take Fiji, or Voss, for example. Fiji’s unique rectangular shaped exterior and aesthetically pleasing branding has  not only made the bottle an item to be kept rather than thrown away, but it’s also created a demand for t-shirts with the bottle on! All the while, Norwegian ‘Artisan Water’ brand, Voss, has made their bottles out of glass to promote people reusing them (I even have one of these at home).

Image: R.E Barber

“Discerning shoppers aren’t just looking for more recycled content in packaging, they want to know that less energy and raw materials have been used in its creation.” – Maxine Perella

  1. Mushrooms are the new Styrofoam

Styrofoam is notoriously difficult to recycle or repurpose, and isn’t the best for wildlife.

Eben Bayer grew up on a farm in Vermont, and noticed the mycelium (the “roots” of mushrooms) clumping wood chips together. Mycelium is a part of the mushroom that grows in a mass of branched fibres, attaching to the soil or whatever it is growing on. Bayer’s company Ecovative makes packaging from this kind of agricultural waste. The mushroom’s bonding ability is what makes it so perfect. In general, these mushroom chips are much more cost effective, plastics start with expensive, finite feedstocks derived from oil or natual gas. And as the mycelium comes from waste from farms, it’s much more eco-conscious.

Ikea have already planned to use the biodegradable fungus-based packaging to replace polystyrene, which is tricky to recycle. All in an effort to reduce waste and increase recycling.

Combining fungus with agricultural waste creates packaging that’s cheap, durable, and bio-degradable. This is in hope to make a meaningful change in an environmentally destructive industry valued globally at around £13 billion.

  1. Edible packaging

Just like an orange, there’s now talks of an edible film which can act as a barrier between the food and the surrounding environment. The main component for this film is starch, but natural additives can also be included to give it a great taste. We can use it for prolonging the shelf life of food and protecting it from microorganisms.

Scientist, Professor Tatsiana Savitskaya is convinced it holds the potential to help the environment, and improve food. She says that it can also be wrapped around meat or fish, which will be able to be fried without oil or spices, as the film will already include those in. This reduces the amount of packaging waste, so it’s perfect for those conscious about protecting the environment.

Also, in the same manner of which Willy Wonka bit into his teacup in the Everything Edible Room, KFC tested out an edible coffee-cup experiment in the UK in 2015. Made from a hard cookie lined with heat-resistant white chocolate, the cup is KFC’s answer to reducing landfill waste.

  1. Marine Algae

At the Milan Design Week, “Agar Plasticity,” a project that explores using marine algae in packaging, won the grand prize at its annual design competition.

Japanese designers Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani and Akira Muraoka known collectively as “AMAM” bested a field of over 1,200 entries from 73 countries by creating the earth-friendly alternative to plastic that uses agar, a jelly-like substance derived from algae. And earlier this year, an Icelandic product designer also created a prototype for agar water bottles that begin decomposing as soon as the water inside is consumed.

This means that, soon, your packages may arrive cushioned in seaweed.

  1. Carbon offsetting and doing more with less

The UK’s corrugated industry is making sure retailers are able to cut their carbon footprint and make a positive environmental impact.

“As well as optimising packaging, measures to combat waste include increasing reuse and recycling. Over 80% of corrugated is recycled, and new UK boxes are made from more than 75% recycled material.”- packagingsolutions.com

Because of this, Antalis are now offering eco-friendly, 100% recyclable boxes. But that’s not all, because for every box bought, a portion of the money goes towards planting new trees.

  1. Vegetable tags that contain seeds

Ben Huttley, a UK art student, has come up with an idea that promotes gardening through 100% recyclable and biodegradable packaging. Not only is the packaging lazer-cut and free of any ink (which is also bad for the environment), but the labels and twine are completely recyclable and contain seeds, so you can use them to grow your very own veggies.

Want to learn more about what’s next for the packaging world? Download the future of packaging report below!