Let’s Unpack This: Packaging

2020 really shook things up. We have experienced major disruptions in our day-to-day lives and have been subjected to drastic alterations in our habits and behavior. Awkward elbow bumps now replace handshakes and hugs, masked faces are normalized and our personal space has collectively grown by 1,5 meters. There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences will be felt for years to come. Although virtually all aspects of life as we know it have changed, there is one in particular which has raised some concerning questions. Not only did 2020 present us with soaring numbers of infections, it has also seen a significant spike in e-commerce. If you weren’t an online shopper before, you probably are one now – Heaps of packages and boxes by your and our Neighbors' doors serve as testimony to this fact.

Packaging – which used to go unseen and unnoticed by consumers, and traditionally hidden along the supply chain – is now accounting for the bulk of our domestic waste. Receiving a box within a box, wrapped in plastic and cushioned by bubble wrap and wads of paper are a common sight. This begs the question; what’s with all this packaging? With more and more companies and brands attempting to transition to more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, it is a wonder that we have not yet made more progress in addressing the waste created by packaging. Here is a look at what options are already available, what developments are underway and why you should care about packaging.

Recycling: the Very Least We Could Do

In recent years we have seen many brands turn to recycling as a means of providing more sustainable and environmentally-friendly packaging solutions. These efforts should not be dismissed; however, it is worth pointing out that recycling is not the answer to our package-related waste issues. In reality, recycling is the equivalent of slapping some duct tape on a leaking pipe. It is dealing with the waste we produce, while we should be focused on addressing the issue of producing waste itself. Recycling is far too friendly with the concept of greenwashing. It is a supposedly sustainable buzzword which is not questioned or scrutinized enough in spite of the fact that its shortcomings have been common knowledge for years. This can be attributed to the fact that the plastic industry has invested in multimillion dollar campaigns for decades to persuade the public that recycling is the answer to all our wasteful habits and problems.

While materials like paper, glass and aluminium have more successful statistics regarding recycling, it is plastic which causes the greatest concern. It is estimated that only one third of plastics are actually recycled, even with the increased efforts by the general public to separate their waste for this purpose. Recycling plastic is an expensive and complicated process which only results in lower quality products and materials. Yes, we need to deal with the waste which already exists, but more importantly we need to stop creating more of it. Products like Terra Thread’s Sustainable Backpacks are shipped package free. In fact we do not use any packaging-just the shipping box or mailer. 

Alternative and Sustainable Materials

There have been several developments towards creating both compostable or bio-degradable materials to replace those nasty plastics and single-use packaging. Compostable packaging requires special composting conditions, while bio-degradable varieties are created to breakdown in landfills. Both are intended to return to the earth safely and replenish it with nutrients. This direction is one which allows us to sustainably and responsibly borrow resources from the earth while ensuring that something is returned – unlike the non-renewable resources taken for materials like plastic. At Terra Thread, we are committed to producing 100% Organic Cotton products like our Canvas Lupa Tote and Lok Zipper Pouch which will someday be able to return to the earth without doing harm. Unfortunately this approach is not yet the most dominant direction companies choose to take. The catch is that this process is currently still more expensive and time-consuming than producing the usual suspects. Industries are reluctant to undergo this costly shift and mostly continue to value profits over sustainability. Though we applaud the select companies and brands which have made major strides in the way of sustainable packaging, their efforts remain isolated within the larger scope of initiatives until the rest of the industry begins to follow suit.

Reusable Packaging: the Ideal Solution

Another approach to this issue, one which could serve to be the most sustainable of all, is reusable packaging. This concept transports us to a time of the Milk Man and is based on a simple, but very relevant notion; industries should take responsibility for packaging, not consumers. After all, we purchase products and goods, not packaging. Brands and companies need to be held accountable for the packaging which they produce. Currently it is up to the consumer to deal with the inordinate amounts of packaging which follow us home or arrive at our doorsteps. Progress is being made in the food and produce industry where plastic grocery bags are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. Items like our Organic Cotton Mesh Bag are providing stylish and sustainable alternatives to wasteful shopper bags and unnecessary packaging. The fashion industry is steadily, albeit slowly, developing systems and practices which could render disposable packaging irrelevant. Schemes which involve reusable shipping containers with incorporated pick-up services and a comprehensive circular economy are gaining momentum.

Look at the Bright Side

This is actually a very exciting and challenging opportunity for companies and brands to rethink how the world views packaging. With the rise of e-commerce, brands are able to use packaging as a means of connecting with their customers through spectacular unboxing experiences and beautiful branded containers which can be kept for other personal uses. With the current global circumstances caused by the pandemic, brands can no longer rely as heavily on store-fronts and in-window displays as they did before. Receiving a package from a brand and the unboxing of such a package has become the primary physical touchpoint between brands and consumers. Breaking up with our habits of single-use and disposability requires a mental shift from the general public. Consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious and companies have taken note, thereby fuelling the incentive to adapt to consumer demand. In the coming years we will continue to see progress being made in the way of sustainable packaging solutions as long as we as the consumers continue to push for it.


Recommended Reading:

https://www.vogue.com/article/sustainable-reusable-packaging-loop-fashion-home-products

https://www.positiveluxury.com/blog/2020/02/09/packaging-fashion/

https://goodonyou.eco/eco-friendly-packaging/

https://sustainablepackaging.org/unboxing-sustainability-for-e-commerce-packaging/

https://www.politico.eu/article/the-problem-with-recycling-one-word-plastics/

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