When does eco-packaging fail the environment?

As ethical consumption continues to rise, the IWSR analyses eco-packaging innovation and the role it plays in the larger conversation around environmental sustainability


Awareness of the environment continues to be top of mind for many consumers, and there is an increased demand for brands to share consumers’ approach to ethical and sustainable living.

Both drinks producers and governments around the world have launched initiatives to help respond to growing environmental concerns. Beverage brands are increasingly reviewing their entire product cycles in consideration of their environmental impact – everything from ingredients sourcing and production processes to packaging and delivery methods. Government sanctions can change an entire industry – in Germany, refillable packaging solutions are favoured by the legislator; Scotland announced introducing a bottle deposit scheme for all beverages, for which the industry will need to prepare.

Packaging is one of the key areas for consideration when reviewing a product’s environmental impact. Thorsten Hartmann, Director at the IWSR, said: “Eco-packaging is a very broad topic but we are expecting to see ongoing innovation as drinks producers continue to explore ways of reducing packaging and looking at paper formats, recyclable materials or even forgoing packaging altogether. Premium beverage packaging is also a key area needing innovation as a lot of this type of packaging contains gold and metals that cannot be recycled.”

Packaging innovations that have the potential to disrupt current product design include solutions such as developing lightweight glass, shipping liquids in bulk and bottling locally, or eschewing plastic multipack rings in favour of options like plant-based biodegradable rings or duplex carton multipacks. Some examples of these have already been introduced to the market, such as Carlsberg’s adhesive can-binding dots, Corona’s plant-based rings, or Diageo’s sustainably-sourced cardboard packaging for its Guinness brand.

As brands continue to invest in recyclable or reduced packaging, it is important to note that the best environmental initiatives are ones that are all-encompassing throughout a product’s lifecycle. “There is a big difference between what can be recycled and what actually is recycled. There needs to be a level of investment and infrastructure set up to allow for recycling to take place on a large scale, once the product is discarded,” advises Hartmann.

Governments around the world have rolled out different types of programmes to encourage wide-scale recycling, such as offering monetary incentives for depositing recyclable containers or launching returnable schemes where product vessels are encouraged to be reused or to at least be re-introduced into the product cycle. What is still often lacking, though, is a functioning recycling infrastructure that is economically viable – if no money can be made from recycling, ultimately recyclable products may still end up in a landfill.

As investment in collecting and recycling discarded product containers remains key, infusing the product cycle with environmentally-friendly innovation is the first step in the process, and brands can play a critical role in further bolstering transparency and awareness of the overall end-to-end recycling process.

Stay in the front

Get report updates, latest news and industry insights straight into your inbox