Pandemic Accelerates Expansion of Private Sustainability Targets While Public Efforts Slow

Cleveland OH, June 30, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated expansion of private sector packaging sustainability targets, even as the pandemic has caused public sector efforts to slow somewhat, finds a new Freedonia Group analysis. Key packaging sustainability targets include:

  • source reduction (i.e., reducing packaging material volume)
  • improved recycling rates, especially for plastics
  • increased use of materials that are biodegradable and/or compostable
  • increased use of recycled content in packaging
  • expansion of reusable packaging programs

Packaging sustainability has been most pronounced in the food, beverage, and consumer markets, with major packaging firms as well as end users – including Nestlé, Keurig Dr Pepper, PepsiCo, and L’Oréal – announcing aggressive new goals for packaging sustainability and introducing packaging solutions to meet established ones.

Efforts have also grown in the e-commerce market. For instance, in 2021, major shipping concerns in Europe launched reusable e-commerce packaging solutions that could translate to the US market.

However, the pandemic also introduced some constraints to packaging sustainability

Still, the COVID-19 pandemic did constrain progress in packaging sustainability to an extent, especially in the public sector. For instance, early in the pandemic, a number of state and local governments suspended some of the restrictions on plastic retail bags and single-use foodservice products that have proliferated across the country in recent years. While most of these measures were lifted within the first year of the pandemic, they stymied momentum on curbing plastic bag consumption.

Corporate packaging sustainability efforts were also hindered by issues in some markets with packaging availability, supply chain disruptions, and material pricing increases. Additionally, limited availability of recycled material due to supply chain disruption forced some end users to reduce consumption of post-consumer recycled (PCR) in packaging production. Similarly, the sharp rise in e-commerce boxes being shipped to consumers exacerbated a longer term decline in paperboard recycling rates.

Want to Learn More?

Sustainability in Packaging is focused on identifying key trends in sustainability in the packaging industry, including:

  • shifts in material mix toward more sustainable alternatives to virgin plastics (e.g., paper, bioplastics, molded fiber, recycled materials, reusable packaging)
  • packaging producer and end user sustainability efforts and target goals
  • product innovation in compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, and lightweight packaging
  • expansion of packaging reuse programs
  • supply and demand for recycled content
  • regulatory changes affecting demand for sustainable packaging

Sustainability trends are analyzed by leading packaging material (plastic, paper and paperboard, metal, glass, molded fiber) and in terms of packaging producer and end user sustainability goals. Historical data and forecasts for overall packaging demand and key market segments (food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, foodservice disposables, and other markets including e-commerce) are also provided. Additionally, profiles of select packaging products, markets, and materials are highlighted. Consumer survey data related to packaging sustainability collected by The Freedonia Group are also presented.