As waste continues to pile up in our landfills, a growing number of companies are taking a second look at product packaging and devising creative ways to cut back. From mushrooms and potatoes to the quest for a recyclable toothpaste tube, this week we're tipping our hats to seven companies that are leading the charge in sustainable packaging design.
After introducing bamboo packaging for some of its smaller devices in 2008, Dell announced in 2010 that it would start shipping other products in packaging made from a fungus material, combined with commercial agricultural waste. Both packaging designs are renewable and biodegradable, and they also help the company cut energy use. Last year, Dell took things even further by announcing plans to source 100 percent of packaging from sustainable materials that will be recyclable or compostable by 2020.
Amazon's battle against “wrap rage” – the frustration of trying to open a seemingly impenetrable package to get to the product inside – is rolling ahead at full force. Last year, the online retail giant announced that its Frustration-Free Packaging initiative, a five-year effort to liberate products from hermetically sealed clamshell cases and plastic-coated steel-wire ties, now offers more than 200,000 items. To date, Amazon has shipped over 75 million of these items to 175 countries, the company said.
TriplePundit pinpointed REI as a packaging trailblazer back in 2011. Key innovations have since helped the brand reduce consumer packaging by 36 percent – designing out more than 1.4 million pounds of waste, the company said. “We must go beyond the traditional ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ model to eliminate waste at the front end of the manufacturing process,” the company states in the overview of its waste and recycling strategy. “And, we must carefully examine and reengineer practices attached with waste generation throughout our operations.”
Each year, Stonyfield Farm sells 200 million of its “YoBaby” and “YoKids” individual, 4-ounce yogurt cups (they’re sold in multipacks of four). This makes up 27 percent, by weight, of all its products sold each year. After customer complaints about health risks and lack of recycling options for its polystyrene yogurt cups, the company switched over to corn-based polylactic acid (PLA). Although PLA comes with its own set of problems, the company was able to significantly reduce conventional plastic use by making the change.
As Dell explores bio-based options like mushrooms and bamboo, Tom’s of Maine is tinkering with potato starch for some its polylactic acid (PLA) packaging. Potatoes are a huge part of Maine’s farming sector, and the company has a long-term opportunity to divert food waste or crops that are below food-grade from landfills and churn them into bio-plastic resin. Tom's pinpointed its mouthwash bottles and deodorant canisters as good candidates for the use of potato-based PLA initially.
Earlier this year, Colgate-Palmolive committed to making 100 percent of its packaging fully recyclable for three out of four product categories (home, pet and personal care) by 2020. Colgate has also committed to developing a completely recyclable toothpaste tube or package. Additionally, the company agreed to increase the average recycled content of its packaging from 40 percent to 50 percent, and reduce or eliminate the use of PVC — a hard-to-recycle resin — in packaging.
Puma has been working for years to develop more sustainable packaging across the board. It swapped out a hard-to-recycle plastic resin in favor of recycled paper for its sandal hangers. It also famously eliminated shoeboxes back in 2010 by introducing its 'Clever Little Bag' - a reusable bag with two cardboard inserts to hold shoes in place. Even with the inserts, the new packaging design dramatically reduces paper use and saves more than a million liters of fuel oil annually compared to a traditional shoebox, according to a Puma Lifecycle Assessment.
Image courtesy of Stonyfield Farm
Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling.
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