Lawrence Barnett, Wonderland Design: “Planet saving packaging”

09 November 2022, 15:32 PM
  • Lawrence Barnett, managing director at Wonderland Design, explains how to navigate the world of packaging recyclability and sustainability
Lawrence Barnett, Wonderland Design: “Planet saving packaging”

The world of packaging recyclability and sustainability is the hot topic.

As brand packaging designers, pack material recyclability is yet another design consideration that needs to be communicated. And very often on front of pack alongside brand, product, flavour and various kinds of health claims. But it’s often not as straightforward a message of ‘recycle me’. Or not. 

As consumers, we are completely bamboozled by all today’s packaging recycling jargon. Recyclable, widely recyclable, recycle at large supermarkets only, less plastic, plastic-free, biodegradable, compostable, home compostable, made from recycled materials. These are just some of the claims being used on pack alongside its many, equally confusing, symbols. It’s a message minefield where ‘recyclable’ is sometimes only theoretical.

Yet it’s one of the most important considerations that our clients are trying to get to grips with. And it’s no surprise why. Consumers are demanding more environmentally friendly packaging materials and a few of the big retailers are beginning to stipulate recycling criteria for the brands they are considering listing.

With Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) due to be implemented within 18 months, this will place more onus on individual businesses for the packaging they use in the UK market. Clearly, the stakes are high.

So, what can you do to navigate all of this? Here are some guiding principles:
1 Keep it simple. Try and stick to commonly understood materials, where possible. Paper, card, aluminum and glass. Plastics are perhaps the most confusing as to how recyclable they really are, whether it’s a second life or ocean plastic or whether it’s a plastic made from recycled plastic but isn’t recyclable.

2 Less is more. Are there ways to reduce the amount of your packaging? Your design agency may have some ideas about how to do this, or perhaps talk to your manufacturer about other alternatives. New, innovative pack formats for your product’s packaging can help you stand out in the category. Recently, we have worked with a packaging format that allows consumers to refill the pack.

3 Beware the smoke and mirrors. Don’t take as read the headline from the manufacturer – for example, there are plastics made from plants that take just as long to break down as regular plastics! There are also compostable materials that only break down using particular industrial composting facilities. Talk to the manufacturer and understand the recycling practicalities.

4 Going bio. For bio-plastics, perhaps opt for home compostable rather than bio-degradable or industrially compostable. There is a TUV (a technical inspection certificate) verification that certifies how the material is degraded and how long it takes.

5 Take responsibility. Whatever packaging you use for the product, this is part of your brand and says a lot about your brand’s values. Be clear about your pack’s recyclability and how it is to be disposed of. 

Very often it is not possible for food and drink brands to use verified sustainable packaging materials that are fully recyclable. This may be for a variety of reasons.

But don’t fret. There could be a half-way house solution. And, even if there isn’t, there is a strong chance that the way your product is made, or its provenance, has its own sustainability benefit that is worth highlighting on-pack.

For the longer term, it might be possible to work with your packaging manufacturing partner to explore bespoke ideas for your brand. This may sound expensive but there are lots of smaller manufacturers out there that are flexible enough to work with you to find an innovative solution that could make your brand famous.

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