Sustainable Packaging: Moving Beyond Recycling Labels

July 2019

A renewed focus on recyclability and plastic waste has created an opportunity for manufacturers to showcase reformulations in packaging and to differentiate brands through ethical labelling. Recycling labels are no longer enough to demonstrate environmental commitments in packaging. This briefing will look at how companies are moving beyond recycling labels to market environmental commitments around packaging.

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Mondelez shifts away from Fairtrade and what it could signify

The announcement by Mondelez in late 2015 detailing its planned expansion of Cocoa Life sparked an uncertainty in the market about the ramifications this could have on the Fairtrade and other traditional standards going forward. A domino effect could undermine Fairtrade greatly.

Is the race to sustainability opening doors for niche alternatives?

Boasting a commitment to 100% sustainable sourcing in the form of goals is fast becoming essential for global players that find the spotlight on supply chains ever intensifying. What many of the goals being made lack is specificity, which is ultimately worrying for the Fairtrades, Rainforest Alliances and UTZs of theworld.

The big three certifiers facing fresh competition

For major schemes to survive, they must adapt. While some industry voices might be critical and question the tangible impact that these initiatives have on farmers on the ground, for consumers they remain the gold standard in terms of being the most recognisable stamp of an ethical supply chain in operation today.

UK retailers look for a change

In 2017, there was further reason for Fairtrade to worry, as UK retailer J Sainsbury looked to follow a new route to sustainable ethical sourcing. This plan was eventually abandoned after significant backlash from various groups.

Impact initiatives growing

Alternative routes may have a long way to go in terms of reaching the same levels of consumer recognition enjoyed by the big three certifiers, but through innovative approaches they appear to be gaining ground.

Innovation and flexibility of the big three is crucial

In January 2014, Fairtrade introduced the sourcing programme. Running in parallel with the existing Fairtrade mark, the Fairtrade sourcing programme offered a more malleable method of sustainably-sourced ingredients, allowing manufacturers to source specific ingredients as Fairtrade-certified and still benefit from a less prominent claim.

Key findings
Recycling labels are back-of-pack and not a driver of ethical behaviour
Recyclable pack types are ubiquitous in soft drinks
Major recyclability pledges are in every big player’s CSR strategy
Recycling labels and pledges not translating into less waste so far
Packaging waste remains a global issue
Spotlight on plastic waste has yet to curb plastic packaging usage
Environmental messages make sustainable packaging a central focus
Only one in 10 consumers are willing to pay more for recyclable packaging
Spotlight on global fmcg to do more as they face “worst offenders” tag
Looking beyond recycling labelling: how to market sustainable packaging
Reduce: fresh produce loses the plastic in favour of laser marking
Reduce: paper-based replacing plastic packaging
Reduce: “plastic-free” commitment goes front-of-pack in private label
Re-use: recycling incentives can build brand loyalty
Re-use: industry-wide circular initiatives go mainstream
Recycle: choosing recycling labels with clear messaging
Recycle: global players supporting consumer education initiatives
Recycle: bioplastic packaging can differentiate brands
Manufacturers not yet investing in sustainable pack types
Coca-Cola brands driving sustainable pack types in Japan and the US
Dairy players target sustainable packaging but still have a long way to go
Case study: even baked goods rises to sustainable packaging challenge
Conclusions
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