Sustainable Packaging: Increasing Demand for Natural Solutions
Published on May 17, 2022 12:55PM PST by Investing News Network
As the packaging sector continues to grow, finding a cost-effective, scalable and environmentally safe option for packaging materials is paramount.
We only have one planet — and until recently we’ve done a poor job taking care of it.
The packaging industry is one of the sectors in which this is most evident. With a projected market size of US$1.13 trillion by 2030, it also represents one of the most significant sources of pollution in the world. Globally, we produce roughly 380 million tons of plastic per year. Single-use items such as grocery bags, bottles and packaging represent around 50 percent of that number.
To put this into context, the plastic waste produced by soft drink companies could cover 83 football fields a day, and the pollution footprint of packaging is at least as bad.
Less than 9 percent of plastic waste is ever recycled. The rest either winds up in landfills or dumped into the ocean, the latter of which amounts to at least 14 million tons annually. At our current trajectory, if something is not done it has been predicted that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050.
The problems with plastic packaging
Currently, plastic comprises nearly 80 percent of all marine debris, from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. This pollution is devastating to oceanic ecosystems, killing as many as 100 million marine animals every year. Humans are not immune to the effects of this either.
Plastic pollution represents a significant threat to food quality and safety. You’ve probably consumed some yourself without realizing it. Fish in the North Pacific, for instance, ingest up to 14,000 tons of plastic a year and humans consume an estimated 40 pounds of plastic in their lifetime.
Research into the impact this may have on human health is ongoing.
It’s not just oceanic pollution that traditional packaging contributes to, either. In addition to accounting for 96 percent of the particulate matter health footprint, plastic also has a massive carbon footprint. From 2019 to 2050, it’s been predicted that emissions from plastic production and incineration will account for an estimated 56 billion tons of carbon — nearly 50 times the annual emissions of all coal power plants in the United States in just 31 years.
“The real story of plastics’ impact on the environment begins at the wellheads where it comes out of the ground,” Carroll Muffet, head of the Center for International Environmental Law, told NPR. “Plastics are among the most energy-intensive materials to produce. The plastics crisis is a climate crisis hidden in plain sight.”
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that numerous countries simply lack the infrastructure to effectively curb plastic pollution. The pervasive lack of sanitary landfills, incineration facilities and recycling capacity only further contributes to plastic waste leakage.
Plastic is also significantly more expensive than many realize, even if businesses don’t always bear the upfront expense. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the total societal cost of plastic production in 2019 was US$3.7 trillion. This is expected to increase to US$7.1 trillion by 2040.
Safeguarding the ecosystem, one package at a time
Plastic is cheap and abundant. This is one of the reasons it has become so ubiquitous as a packaging material. And cost is also the core reason driving most businesses’ hesitancy to consider an alternative.
Yet the price of switching to sustainable packaging is largely overblown. For one, roughly 74 percent of consumers across the United States, Europe and South America are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. Nearly one quarter of those would be willing to accept a price increase of 10 percent or more.
It’s been estimated that major brands could save at least US$11.4 billion a year simply by incorporating recycling into their packaging choices, and the global sustainability market is expected to reach US$41.62 billion by 2028.
Sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging would also reduce reliance on fossil fuels and save considerable energy. Several countries are also either considering or actively promoting tax incentives for businesses that practice sustainability. Finally, increased demand for plastic alternatives will naturally lower their cost as production scales up.
And there are already many such alternatives on the market, from simple recycled materials and corrugated cardboard to cellulose to glassine.
The global sustainability market is predicted to reach US$41.62 billion by 2028. The global packaging market is projected to reach US$1.3 trillion by 2030. Sustainable packaging rests at the intersection of these two valuable industries. This makes it an excellent opportunity for green investment portfolios that tap into growing initiatives towards carbon neutrality, and an impactful way to use your investing power for the good of the planet.