Circular Materials

Circular Is
The New Green

Traditional food-packaging solutions are based on linear economies. If current consumption trends continue, the use of single-use plastics will inevitably lead to the depletion of nonrenewable resources, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and an uncontrollable amount of solid waste entering our natural environments, unless we find alternative solutions that promote circular economies.

The ‘take, make, waste’ model (the model of a linear economy) requires the constant and perpetual extraction of raw materials and natural resources in order to keep up with current rates of production and consumption. What if, instead of designing for disposal, we created a global economy in which products—such as foods and beverages—are designed to be reused, recycled or decomposed into organic matter that replenishes the earth?

Opportunities & Challenges
  • Reduces methane emissions in landfill (Project Drawdown.2021)

  • Turns waste into a resourceful product (US EPA, 2021)

  • Materials are made from plant based, renewable resources (World Centric, 2019)

  • Reduces our dependency on petroleum-based products (Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009)

  • So far, compostables have not significantly changed our behavioral patterns towards single-use plastics

  • Composting is a linear (albeit regenerative) strategy

  • Commercial composting facilities are not available at scale; one of the major problems with biodegradable and compostable materials is that we need active end markets that can actually handle this type of waste. (Miller, R. A. 2020)

  • The price of petroleum-based packaging continues to fluctuate (GreenBiz, 2019)

  • Compostable material offerings send a signal to consumers that the company/organization is committed to more sustainable practices

  • There are major contamination issues within composting systems; if compostables enter the recycling stream, they can contaminate the batch and make it impossible to process (Eater, 2020)

Relevant Certifications/Claims
Opportunities & Challenges
Relevant Certifications and Claims
Opportunities & Challenges
  • Biodegradable materials are made from renewable, bio-based/plant-based inputs instead of petroleum-based inputs. (Plastics Design Library, 2021)

  • Materials break down within a relatively short specific period of time, instead of persisting in the environment, which reduces pollution and disturbance to our natural environments. (The Balance Small Business, 2021)

  • Biodegradable plastics can be biologically broken down, but if this is carried out in soil, it can leave harmful toxins in the surrounding area. (GreenBiz, 2019)

  • Biodegradable materials require specific temperature and atmospheric parameters in order to break down properly (US National Library of Medicine, 2009)

  • Many biodegradable materials do not degrade in water, thus the ocean plastic problem still persists (BBC, 2019)

  • Biodegradable materials offer convenient disposal for businesses and consumers, since they technically do not require separation from landfill/trash

  • There are no standardized scientific parameters for how long it takes a certain material to decompose, which can unintentionally (or intentionally) lead to greenwashing (Lumi)

Consumer Insights + Trends
  • With packaging accounting for 40% of plastic usage, many beauty brands are turning to a natural solution: mushroom mycelium (Vogue 2020)

Opportunities & Challenges
  • Reduce waste thanks to circular economy functions with a “closed loop,” where materials are perpetually repurposed (The sustainability institute, 2020)

  • Tackle plastic pollution at its source by halting the need for virgin plastic and protecting our natural resources.(Greenpeace)

  • Better product protection in reusable packaging also aids sustainability through reduction of damage and the investment of resources required to dispose of the unsaleable product as well as to manufacture and ship the replacement merchandise.

  • Reusable packaging should ideally be recyclable once it is no longer usable. If it doesn’t fit this characteristic, it is going to end up in the landfill.

  • Waste is a byproduct of a linear economy; through a circular economy, waste can and should be made obsolete. (The balance small Business, 2020)

  • Businesses that invest in reusable packaging can see direct savings in packaging purchase and disposal costs as a result of repeated reuse. (Science Direct, 2020)

  • A circular economy therefore asks producers to build this model into their business structure. They must set up a system with end-users of their products to get their packaging returned to them. (Time, 2021)

  • Cost and return logistics remain the two major bottlenecks preventing the implementation of reusable packaging across industries. (Packaging Europe, 2021)

  • An issue of concern is pallet and container theft.(The balance small business, 2020)

  • The future of reusable packaging will be driven by trends such as smart packaging and personalized packaging. (Mckinsey, 2019)

Relevant Certifications/Claims
    • To use a reuse claim the packaging:
    • – must be able to be reused/refilled for its original purpose must have been designed with the intent to be reused/refilled
    • – there must be a system in place to collect and return the item, or facilities or products that allow consumers to reuse or refill the package in the market in which it is sold
Available Materials
  • Loop: Started in 2019. An initiative from TerraCycle with a vision is to stop the use of linear, single-use packaging and create a circular economy by reusing containers and other receptacles, where consumers receive their trusted brands in durable and reusable packaging.

  • ePac: Company dedicated to help small brands obtain big brand presence, give back to the communities they serve and contribute to the creation of a more sustainable, circular economy.

For additional material inspiration, please check out A Plastic Planet’s material library.
Consumer Insights + Trends
  • The culture of “make, take, waste” is slowly changing.

  • Glass is preferred for factors such as reusability and product protection.

  • It is estimated that at least 20% of plastic packaging could be replaced by reusable systems (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2019)

Let’s collaborate

Together, let’s drive an industry shift toward a planet-friendly approach to responsible packaging.