If you think you hear a giant sucking sound, it’s likely the retail industry siphoning out straws, plastics and other environment-damaging packaging from their shelves.
The retail industry is waist-deep in campaigns to eliminate tons of product packaging materials, from polystyrene to questionably harvested paper. Merchants across sectors, including Amazon, Kroger and Walmart, have committed to formal waste-reducing programs.
The motivation is social as well as economic. Nearly 60% of consumers said they are less likely to buy products in packaging that is harmful to the environment, according to a survey of 5,000 consumers by the Boston Consulting Group for the packaging company Exal Corp. Nearly 25% said they would pay up to 20% more for products in eco-friendly packaging.
In time, shoppers may not have a choice. By 2025, many major retailers plan to meet established goals for waste reduction, and that will make the store shelf look very different.
Money In The Trash
Product packaging represents 65% of household trash, and lots of discarded dollars. For every $10 shoppers spend on goods, 10% is tossed away in the form of packaging, according to the University of Southern Indiana.
The cost of handling that trash escalates from there: $50 per ton to send it off to the landfill, on average. It costs $30 per ton to recycle it and as much as $75 to incinerate it.
Other reasons retailers are rethinking their packaging:
- It’s getting crowded. Packaging accounts for almost half of all plastic waste, which itself is massive. Nearly 90% of plastic waste is not recycled, and more than 8 million tons are dumped into the ocean every year, according to National Geographic.
- It produces by-product waste. Paper packaging, including cardboard, can be just as bad as plastic due to forestation and processing. Paper bag production generates 50 times more water pollutants and 70% more air pollutants than plastic bag production.
- Reduced packaging reduces retailer expenses. The plastics packaging market alone is valued at about $200 billion, and someone’s paying for that. The cosmetics merchant Lushestimates 40% to 50% of its product cost is attributed to packaging, according to its blog post.
Little wonder, then, that more of Lush’s products are becoming package-free.
Saying No To Paper, Plastic: Amazon, Kroger, Walmart And More
Retailers, in response, are putting their own products in sustainable packaging. Among those with formal campaigns:
Kroger, as part of its effort to optimize the packaging of all its private label products by 2020, has reduced the amount of plastic resin it uses by 10 million pounds. For example, Kroger has redesigned its milk jugs to require 10% less plastic, and they are made from 100% recyclable material.
Target has also set a goal for 2020, which includes sourcing all its private-label paper-based packaging from sustainably managed forests and eliminating polystyrene plastics.
Walmart is reducing packaging waste from its private labels and has set a goal to make all of the materials 100% recyclable, reusable and/or compostable by 2025.
Aldi too has committed to converting 100% of its packaging to reusable, recyclable or compostable materials by 2025. The German retailer has not used single-use plastic bags for decades.
Amazon, through its Shipment Zero program, aims to make half of all its shipments net zero carbon by 2030. Through its Amazon Day, for example, Prime members can choose to have all orders delivered on one day of the week.
Major consumer brands aren’t about to be upstaged by private label. In January, dozens of companies, including Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, have partnered to introduce a reusable and refillable packaging model, according to a report in RetailDive.
Lighter Packaging, Brighter Shelves: 4 Predictions
These changes will alter the shopping experience in a few ways.
- Bulking up. Consumers may see a lot more bulk foods they can carry out in their own reusable containers. This could apply to liquid products as well, as long as the shopper has a vessel.
- More concentration. More household products will likely be concentrated, resulting in smaller packaging. Procter & Gamble’s Tide is a good example. About a decade after introducing the concentrated formula (in smaller jugs) it has introduced Tide liquid in an “eco-box.”
- Going naked. Manufacturers may follow the example set by cosmetics company Lush and eschews packaging all together, where it makes sense. Customers of By Humankind, maker of soaps and other personal care items, purchase one container that is refilled through a subscription service.
- Lighter trips. Less packaging means lighter loads and easier carrying. The number of (reusable) shopping bags required per trip will likely shrink, much like the size of the packaging inside, so the shopper can make fewer trips from the car (or porch, if delivered) to the kitchen.
Best of all, reduced packaging should reduce costs to consumers; if not in the actual price tag, then in value. Smaller packages in the store mean less space taken up at home, and less to throw in the trash.
Most important, there’s the immeasurable benefits to animal and plant life. Among all the reasons to change our packaging habits, environmental damage should be the last straw.