Packaging for the Planet and the Modern Consumer: Primary Packaging as a Sustainable Strategy

By Augustin De Tilly, Global Business Development Director at Aptar

In the era of social media and digital activism, we are exposed to concerns about the impact of plastic on the environment on a daily basis. The attention to these issues is more than just social media buzz — the Plastic Pollution Coalition predicts that the volume of ocean plastic will double over the next decade. As more and more plastic makes its way into the ocean, consumers are becoming more conscious of the ways their choices impact the environment, particularly when it comes to plastic use.

Consumers are increasingly choosing products with more sustainable packaging and   expecting that their favorite brands do the same. Brands such as the Procter & Gamble Company and Coca-Cola have already responded to consumer demand, with Procter & Gamble planning to introduce 500 million bottles composed of 25 percent recycled plastic and Coca-Cola developing new recycling initiatives.

However, plastic is often an intrinsic component when it comes to packaged food and beverages, as it not only offers convenience, but also product protection. While “reduce and reuse” plastic is an emerging practice, improving the recyclability of plastic packaging will also be intrinsic for brands, suppliers and consumers to move towards a more sustainable future.

Meeting Consumer Expectations for Sustainability

Mintel’s 2018 A Year of Innovation in Bottled Water study found that 56 percent of British consumers who drink bottled water feel guilty about the plastic waste.

As brands have also continued to focus on their own sustainability efforts, many have made public pledges to meet certain sustainability goals. For example Coca-Cola recently announced a plan to develop a 50 percent recyclable bottle by 2020 and 100% recyclable bottle by 2030.

Although awareness of plastic’s impact on the environment continues to increase, convenience and product quality are also top factors in consumers’ buying behavior when it comes to bottled beverages. Bottled water consumption, for instance, reached a record high in the U.S. in 2017, with over 13.7 billion gallons of bottled water consumed, according to Statista. The report shows this increase is largely due to convenience of on-the-go plastic bottles. The packaging industry is now at a crossroad: how can brands meet consumer demand for sustainable packaging while continuing to offer a delighted experience through superior convenience?

Balancing Sustainability with Consumer Experience

Sustainability and the consumer experience are not mutually exclusive. Innovative packaging solutions, such as closures requiring less plastic or tethered bottle caps for beverage bottles, can provide brands with more sustainable packaging that also enhances the consumer experience, giving them the balance of sustainability and convenience they need.

Flat, twist-off caps and sports spout closures are the most commonly-used for single-use beverage bottles and can be modified to be more sustainable and to enhance the consumer drinking experience. In order to access beverages with twist-off caps, consumers must remove the cap before drinking and replace it between each drink, possibly losing the cap in the process. This type of solution presents a problem as, despite the inconvenient experience, it is unlikely the lost caps will be recycled.

Converting flat caps to tethered bottle caps for beverage bottles provides a unique opportunity for both sustainability and consumer friendliness. Tethered bottle caps provide a way to both reduce the steps to access the product and bottle cap pollution. A cap that is tethered to a beverage bottle stays with the bottle through its lifecycle, making the closure more likely to be collected and sent through the recycling stream with the container.

Tethered caps can also reduce the amount of plastic needed for the holistic package. The Flip Lid solution, for instance, offers convenience and decreases the neck height of the bottle and material needed for the thread of the neck compared to traditional bottles.

Unlike a typical flat cap, with Flip Lid, there is no tradeoff between a shorter neck and ease of opening. Switching from a standard flat cap to a lower neck finish also greatly contributes to the sustainability efforts of brands, including PET preform weight optimization. For a screw-on application, reducing the height of the PET preform means a trade off with “ease of opening”: by reducing the height of the neck and closure, consumer will face more difficulties to open the closure since the “grab” surface is reduced With Flip Lid, opening motion is different: consumers flip the lid up. The height of the PET preform does not influence the ease of opening. The  critical element is to get a well-designed protruding element that will help in gripping and lifting the lid.

This technology can open further opportunities to reduce preform weight, and optimize the use of plastic. In addition, Flip Lid provides an enhanced consumer drinking experience: a simple motion to open the lid, a wide opening for drinking comfort and an audible click when the hinge is fully open and fully closed.

Flip Lid and tethered closures are designed to meet the requirements of the new European regulation called “Single-Use Plastic” (SUP), recently adopted by the European Parliament on March 27, as well as the AB 319 California legislation in the USA. Both regulations have the goal of increasing the amount of bottles being collected and recycled, consequently reducing marine litter.

Karma Wellness Water is another example of a company providing a premium customer experience while employing sustainable packaging. Karma Wellness Water features a special delivery system closure that allows users to mix powdered ingredients with water by pushing down on the closure at the point of consumption. This preserves product integrity and allows consumers to create a fresh drink, and magical moment, when mixing water with the ingredient. An added benefit is sustainability — this closure features simple construction, is 100 percent recyclable as it is made of a mono-material and has no liner which helps to preserve the recycling stream. The brand thus combined consumer experience with sustainability for a more innovative solution.

Predictions for the Future of Packaging Solutions

As consumers move toward brands that offer both sustainability and a positive consumer experience, brands will need to demonstrate their commitment to generating consumer loyalty, positively impacting our planet and positioning themselves as forward-thinking.

Government initiatives and lobbyists will also continue to push brands to adopt more sustainable solutions. Fortunately, brands will not need to sacrifice consumer experience for sustainability — with the right solutions, the two can go hand-in-hand. Ultimately, brands need to consider each piece of their package and how those pieces impact the environment and consumer experience. By employing solutions such as Flip Lid or other tethered caps and reducing the amount of plastic used in packaging, companies will meet consumer demand, adhere to potential upcoming legislation requirements and contribute to a more sustainable future.

About the Author

Augustin de Tilly is the global marketing and business development director for beverages at AptarGroup and has been with the company for seven years. He drives new market and product development opportunities at a regional and global level for beverage. With over 15 years of industry experience, Augustin is a regular presenter on packaging innovations and solutions at global conferences, such as the Plastic Closure Innovation conference by AMI. He can be reached at Augustin.detilly@aptar.com.