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Green innovation: The power of sustainable packaging


As ecommerce continues to boom, Caroline Hughes, Global Senior Manager, Packaging, Avery Dennison RBIS discusses how an investment in more sustainable packaging can help elevate brands

Green consumerism is here to stay, and fashion knows it. Brands now accept they must address their carbon footprint and reduce textile and packaging waste as high importance. For instance, an overwhelming majority of British consumers (90%) are conscious of social responsibility and environmental issues, and plan to increase buying from brands with ethical credentials, revealed a survey in August 2021. Similarly, a Chartered Institute of Marketing report (December 2021) found that 82% of UK adults believe companies use too much packaging when delivering online orders, or selling in-store products, with 78% wanting to see more done by large companies to mitigate packaging waste.

With climate change writ large, yet ecommerce booming, what are fashion brands doing to tackle the packaging problem, and how can industry innovations help?

Achievable goals not greenwash

Businesses know they must track and report this kind of progress, if their sustainability strategies are to be credible in an ever-more questioning public arena. Everyone in the industry can do their bit, especially when it comes to sourcing eco-packaging. This is important because it’s estimated packaging takes up almost a third of all plastic production, but only 14% of it will be recycled. Brands are working towards ambitious sustainability goals looking to reduce their carbon footprints, enable a circular economy, reduce or even eliminate packaging. Every fashion designer and ecommerce merchant must ensure the right balance is struck between economic needs and environmental concerns.

Thankfully greener packaging products, such as FSC-certified or recycled content paper packaging, recycled content polybags, and plastic-free hangers, are now widely available for use in the fashion industry. Not only are these more sustainable but solutions such as kraft paper ecommerce mailers create a premium aesthetic improving and elevating brand value and brand perception. 

FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is currently the best certification for paper as it acts as a catalyst for improving standards in forest management and ensuring the paper has been harvested and produced in a responsible manner. Avery Dennison’s plastic-free garment bag offers the same durability and transparency as a PE polybag but uses FSC paper and is 100% curbside recyclable. 

In addition, technology is helping improve sustainability and reduce carbon footprint. Implementing digital triggers to packaging from the point of manufacture is instrumental in ‘closing the loop’ and reducing waste and carbon footprint. Powering protective packaging with smart technology enables raw material certification, waste transparency, advice on recycling, and more. 

This technology is an enabler, to inform stakeholders and supports the life cycles of products and packaging, creating a circular economy, instead of allowing only for single-use, which is unsustainable. Those involved within the industry play an important role in closing the loop by adopting this technology and extending the use of products and packaging.

Eco-friendly packaging is here

The current need for more sustainable options is paving the way for new innovations and materials. Polybags are used extensively across the fashion industry with half a billion being produced every year, however these can be made from recycled content PE plastic, recyclable bioplastics or there is the option of having biodegradable, compostable, and even dissolvable bags. 

Some of these ‘green’ film alternatives on the market can sound exciting but not when concentrating on the baseline of reducing waste. Clothing films tend to get discarded with general waste and don’t end up in the correct end-of-life conditions to actually compost or biodegrade. Some can create microplastics and potentially contaminate the waste stream meaning they contaminate otherwise recyclable plastic material. Biodegradable and compostable films are currently best used in the food industry where they are most likely to end up in the right waste streams. 

Polyethylene (PE) Polybags have been the go-to solution for shipping garments from factories by brands globally through supply chains for decades, due to their low cost, durability and convenience. But this convenience comes with a hidden cost. It uses petroleum a finite resource, Less than 1 percent is recycled. They are most often made from Polyethylene that takes centuries to degrade, it simply ends up in landfill, incinerated, or within the ecosystem. The fashion industry as a whole can do better to reduce packaging waste, by firstly minimizing its packaging use and then focusing on solutions that are curbside recyclable.

Avery Dennison also recently launched its eco-friendly Re-Think Packaging range, which includes its Plastic Free garment bag along with 100% recycled content PE poly bags and E-commerce Mailer bags. These GRS-certified products are intended to be an alternative to single-use plastics, introduce reusable and recyclable materials, and limit the volume of packaging materials being used across the supply chain. 

Trust comes with transparency 

The truth is that the fashion and sportswear industries create record amounts of packaging waste every year. But, it’s clear now – fashion brands don’t want that, and consumers certainly don’t want to buy into it. Everyone wants transparency as a means to bolster the circular economy and massively cut waste and carbon emissions.

As social media continues to give eco-activism a global mouthpiece, we see a growing demand for clarity about where products and packaging have come from, and how materials can be recycled and reused. Informative digitalized labels and carefully designed hang tags will be crucial in communicating the green story of the product and the brand. The good news is that sustainable solutions for these are being developed by industry suppliers like us, as fast as possible today.

In the next decade, the most sustainable brands will be among the most profitable, having listened to growing public demand for them to take environmental responsibility for their actions. So, I would urge  brands to tell their story from design to the final garment, including details of sustainable packaging and labels, to help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases.

By Caroline Hughes, Global Senior Manager, Packaging, Avery Dennison RBIS. 

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