Packaging is an important marketing tool at the point of sale (PoS). It shapes a shopping experience while playing a vital role in what buyers can expect from a product. Consumers' growing environmental awareness means that packaging is facing new challenges – it must be reduced, reusable, or offer additional functionality.
Almost two thirds opt for a product once in the store only because of its packaging! According to Norbert Wittmann from the Munich-based consultancy, Gruppe Nymphenburg the buying impulse multiplies ten-fold if several of our five senses are triggered. Packaging that is paired down or even done away with to benefit the climate requires manufacturers and retailers to invest in more communication at the PoS. They will have to communicate their decision to do away with packaging in order to maintain the product's value while charging it with pro-environment characteristics.
Product packaging causes huge environmental problems: According to the German Environment Agency (UBA) waste generated in Germany in 2017 alone from packaging totalled almost 19 million tonnes (t) – and that figure is on the rise. Too many, and too many different packaging materials, are hiding behind this number. Around half this material consists of paper (8.35 million t); other large volumes therefore come from plastics (3.19 million t), glassware (2,89 million t), and metal (0.64 million t). The German Environment Agency quantifies the rate of recovering materials and energy from packaging waste at 97 per cent, with the majority (69.9 per cent) being recycled in 2017. That is in itself already quite satisfying, but we still use too much packaging – after all, energetic recovery means nothing other than waste incineration. And although this generates usable heat, it also impacts the climate considerably. It must end!
The responsibility of reducing to zero packaging whose materials cannot be recovered rests primarily with those generating it. Product packaging must in future be returnable to the cycle of materials (cradle-to-cradle economy). Product manufacturers achieve this by firstly only packaging what needs to be wrapped in order to explain a functionality, for quality or shelf life reasons or for safety aspects. Secondly, all packaging materials must be completely recoverable. This requires that they be made of pure materials that are free of harmful substances. The cradle-to-cradle expert, Dr. Michael Braungart goes even further by demanding that packaging be not only less harmful, but useful.
Consumers are not made up of a homogenous mass. Instead, today's high-buying clientele consists of various generations: baby boomers (1946 to 1964) as well as generations X (1965 to 1979), Y (1980 to 1995), Z (1996 to 2010) and Alpha (as from 2010). Each target group has its own values and expectations when it comes to consumer goods, which so far have always been taken into consideration in relation to the packaging. In light of climate change as the foremost threat to our entire existence we must agree on values that protect the climate, even for our packaging culture. The willingness for this was demonstrated especially by generations Z and Alpha – students and pupils who demand considerable climate protection under the #Fridays4Future movement.
Many manufacturers have long been changing their packaging. While some offer their products in recyclable packaging which simultaneously serves as storage during use of the product and can be filled with available bulk produce when empty, others already completely dispense with packaging and use the product per se as information space. Others again switch from plastics packaging made largely from fossil fuels to materials that regrow. After all, those types of packaging very much touch on the pulse of their increasingly eco-conscious shoppers.
About the Author
The freelance journalist, Doreen Brumme, a #motherof4 whose work focuses on organic issues, shares her thoughts on how to enjoy a green lifestyle at work, in school, and at home via her blog, doreenbrumme.de