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Sustainability and Packaging in the FMCG Industry

Sustainability is a pressing issue for FMCG businesses, and packaging plays a pivotal role in that. Discover why sustainable packaging is good for the planet – and great for winning customers too.

June 07, 2023

4 mins read

Elliot Taylor

Given current public opinion and discourse on the climate crisis, sustainable packaging has become a significant concern for businesses, both in terms of environmental impact and as a key differentiator for increasingly eco-aware consumers.

But for the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, the issue of sustainable packaging is a particularly pressing issue.

The high and rapid turnover of products associated with the industry naturally creates immense amounts of packaging — according to one study, PepsiCo generated 2.2 million metric tonnes of plastic packaging in 2021 alone.

With the global scientific community ramping up the pressure on governments to achieve net zero, FMCG businesses need to act now to embrace sustainable packaging and win consumer trust and loyalty. 

What is sustainable packaging? 

For an understanding of sustainability and packaging in the FMCG industry, we must first start with some definitions.

Sustainable packaging refers to wrapping and packing materials that deliver a minimal environmental impact on the planet, offering a reduced carbon footprint throughout the packaging’s entire lifecycle. 

This environmentally friendly packaging typically involves the use of recyclable materials, such as cardboard, or material that is easily biodegradable or compostable. Sustainable packaging may also be made from already recycled materials or, in some cases, be reusable itself — Ecover’s refillable bottles are a good example of this.

Why is sustainable packaging important for FMCG?

The industry-wide focus on sustainable packaging in FMCG can be largely attributed to increasing pressures from both consumers and governments. 

Market awareness of wasteful packaging is on the rise. A 2022 Deloitte study revealed that 53% of consumers claim that the use of minimal or recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging is an essential part of what makes a product sustainable, with 31% stating that this was a consideration when purchasing a product. 

Clearly, sustainable packaging is a significant factor when it comes to winning customers in 2023. 

And the opinion of the public has not gone unnoticed by governments and lawmakers. The EU has already implemented a ban on selected single-use plastics, most notably with France’s recent decision to prohibit the use of single-use packaging in takeaways nationwide. 

Forward-looking FMCG businesses need to explore the idea of incorporating sustainable packaging into their supply chain. As well as pre-empting the inevitable legislation that makes sustainable packaging a legal requirement, the opportunity to win over eco-conscious customers is too rewarding to ignore. 


Sustainable packaging: trends and solutions 

While sustainable packaging is often associated with traditional solutions such as cardboard or recycled materials, today’s FMCG businesses have a plethora of options available to them. Here are just a few of the sustainable packaging trends and solutions you have at your disposal. 

  1. Use downgauging to reduce your carbon footprint. Also known as “lightweighting”, downgauging involves reducing the thickness of packaging film in your products. This helps the packaging retain its functionality, while generating less waste as a result. 
  2. Incorporate high-barrier mono-materials into your packaging. Ideal for perishable FMCGs, mono materials are easily recyclable by design. However, the application of certain chemicals still helps prevent UV, water vapour of oxygen from permeating the film.
  3. Swap disposable plastics for returnable metal or glass materials. Several FMCG brands have employed this strategy, allowing customers to return used packaging upon receipt of their new product. This is particularly effective for online orders, as shoppers can easily return their used packaging without needing to visit a brick-and-mortar location.

Sustainable packaging: examples

There are plenty of examples of FMCG businesses already leading the way in sustainable packaging. 

In 2019, multinational consumer goods provider Unilever became the first to pioneer the use of recycled polypropylene plastic (rPP) in its ice cream range, rolling out the packaging in ranges across the world. 

And in a bid to reduce its plastic waste, in 2019 Coca-Cola revealed its new freestanding touch screen soft drinks machines. Coca-Cola Freestyle machines reduce the amount of packaging by enabling Coke to be stored and distilled from a single storage cartridge, rather than multiple plastic bottles. They also consist of 15-30% recycled materials. 

These are just two examples of FMCG brands successfully employing sustainable packaging initiatives. There are many more, and we can expect to see countless others emulate their success in the coming years. 

With consumer awareness of the climate crisis on the rise and further legislation inevitable, now is the time for FMCG brands to embrace sustainability throughout their supply chain, including in their packaging. 

At Ingenuity, we’ve nurtured key FMCG players around the world, from Hotel Chocolat to Coca Cola, helping them scale their business and connect with consumers. Plus, we've supported many brands in their journey towards sustainable operationsGet in touch today and learn how we can help you do the same to achieve your growth goals and environmental credentials. 




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