Eco-friendly Packaging

Caroline HagenBy Caroline Hagen

Creating eco-friendly packaging is easier than you think

Many brand managers are missing an easy win. They are failing to use their packaging itself to point out its eco-friendly credentials. They don’t provide clear information on how to recycle their packaging efficiently. They’re not making more of the fact that they’ve made their packaging more sustainable. Surely most consumers are likely to respond positively to a message about a small reduction of plastic or a handy tip on recycling?

A brand that could be considered environmentally irresponsible can be transformed into a thoughtful brand that is on the sustainability journey. Just with the addition of some thoughtful on-pack messaging. Better still, with some clear instructions, a pack that could have ended up in landfill is instead correctly recycled or even re-used.

Not enough brand owners are using their packaging itself to communicate to consumers how to recycle their packs 

I conducted a survey amongst my clients last year to understand why they invest in the packaging and branding of their OTC (over the counter) medicines and FMCG food, drink and household products. Many believe that their packaging is key in driving loyalty. But even though they believe this, a whopping 40% do not help consumers understand how to re-use or recycle their packaging in their messaging on pack.

This isn’t because they don’t agree that less packaging should end up in landfill or our oceans. I think it’s because they just haven’t considered the benefits.  And it’s so simple. More and more packaging is becoming recyclable or compostable or at least re-usable. But consumers don’t necessarily know this. So it’s up to brands to tell their consumers about each piece of packaging.  

The majority of consumers want to feel good about the sustainability credentials of the brands they choose to buy.

If consumers know that a piece of packaging has been created with the good of the planet in mind they will feel empathy with that brand. Empathy leads to loyalty.

But so many brand owners who have invested in eco-friendly packaging design forget to tell the story of the effort and expense they’ve gone to or the passion they have for the planet and how they want to help their consumers.

Eco-friendly packaging isn’t just for Startups

Bigger brands need to start winning too. Start-ups are brilliant at taking the sustainability high ground and shouting about it because starting from scratch means you can choose an eco-friendly substrate, pack format and production line.

It can be much harder for a big brand to make changes – the cost can be vast, and the supply chain complex.

CIF Eco-friendly packaging example
Clear re-usability claim

However, Unilever has just launched a remarkably eco-friendly new product from Cif.

Not only is the product itself made from 100%naturally derived ingredients, the product and pack format is revolutionary with the Eco-refill system AND they’ve communicated it loud and clear on pack

You don’t have to have a major innovation to make your packaging more eco-friendly

Even if you haven’t got a particular eco-friendly point of difference to shout about, just by giving your consumers a call to action on pack can be a positive step. This could lead to a consumer recycling a pack that could have ended up in landfill because they either forget to recycle or didn’t even know they could.

Tropicana Re-cycling call
Clear recycling call to action

Tropicana haven’t got a unique message but they sure are shouting out ‘recycle me’ loud and clear on their pack!

Some tips on how to go about creating eco-friendly packaging

So if you have a sustainability story to tell what kind of messaging might you use to make your packaging more appealing to your consumer?

You could start with the sourcing of the packaging substrate:

  • what journey does it take from the supplier to the factory?
  • are you supporting local small suppliers; do they have planet-ethical credentials?
  • is it made using minimal energy or sustainable energy?

Spell out how each component is recycled:

  • do consumers need to separate each component
  • if it’s made of flexible packaging (most of which is un-recyclable) – explain what you are doing to replace it with a recyclable or compostable substrate

Higgidy Pies have done a fantastic job of this.  The clear plastic window is not recyclable through kerb-side recycling, but at least they are confessing to this and telling consumers how to get around it.

recyclable eco friendly packaging

Some food and drink packs made out of more robust plastic (eg soup pots and water bottles) can be very usefully re-used:

  • you can encourage your consumer to re-use your pack and explain how many times they can safely re-use it

If you have succeeded in making the pack more sustainable by replacing an un-eco-friendly substrate or reducing the amount of plastic – be sure to tell your consumers on pack! 

Sainsbury eco-friendly packaging example
70% less plastic flash

The 70% less plastic flash on this Sainsbury’s pack is super clear.

Don’t be afraid to direct to your website or use a QR code to tell the recycling story.

Some packs are too small to tell the full story, so use a QR code or direct them to your website.

CIF QR Code and eco-friendly packaging
Using the website and QR code

Ella’s Kitchen direct consumers to their website to find out how to recycle their packaging.

And Cif’s refill pack uses a QR code to give consumers clear recycling instructions

Many shrink sleeve labels interfere with plastic bottle recycling, so advise your consumer to remove the shrink sleeve and give them tips on how to do this easily. Not only are you educating your consumer, but you’re also building your relationship with them.

So what’s the learning?

Many brands are missing out by not communicating on pack even the smallest efforts they are making to make their packs more eco-friendly.

As long as you show them you are trying, the consumer will thank you for it. It will make them feel better about being loyal to your product even if the packaging isn’t quite as squeaky eco-clean as a competitor’s.

How does your packaging stack up?

So now take a look at your pack design through the eyes of your consumer….

  • Is it abundantly clear how to recycle it effectively?
  • Are you telling your consumer what you’ve done to mitigate the pack’s impact on the environment?
  • Are you really doing enough to make your pack eco-friendly?

If you’d like some advice on how best to improve the communication of your sustainability credentials, drop me a line, I’d be happy to chat. caroline@reachbrands.co.uk.

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