Trends Shaping the Future of Sustainable Plastic Packaging

13 May, 2023

What if we told you that the future of packaging is edible, smart, and biodegradable? As the impact of plastics on the environment becomes more apparent, innovative solutions for sustainable packaging are gaining importance like never before. From enhanced recycling technologies to bio-based barrier coatings, the latest trends and innovations in sustainable packaging are changing the game. As companies explore new methods of recycling and incorporate more recycled materials into their products, the shift towards a circular economy is driving change at the industry level. In this blog post, we’ll take you on a journey through the cutting-edge world of sustainable packaging, showcasing the exciting new ways companies are reimagining the materials we use every day. Get ready to discover how edible packaging, smart features, and biodegradable plastics are shaping the future of packaging and protecting the environment.

The Circular Economy and Sustainable Packaging

The plastic waste crisis presents as one of the most challenging environmental issues of our time, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that our current way of living is not sustainable for our planet. However, plastics are still widely used due to their unique properties, which are useful for countless products and applications, for instance as packaging material. 

So, how can we reduce plastic waste and protect the environment while still enjoying the convenience of plastic? Since plastics seem not to disappear from our ecosystem any time soon, pioneering eco-friendly packaging solutions are essential for reducing environmental impact and fostering a circular economy, highlighting the need for innovation in sustainable packaging. 

The concept of a circular economy aims to minimise waste and pollution by keeping resources in use for as long as possible. This approach maximises the value of materials, promoting recycling and repurposing, ultimately reducing the demand for virgin resources. As a result, incorporating sustainable materials and design into packaging solutions is essential for a more eco-friendly future. The future of packaging is driven by the circular economy, and legislation plays a crucial role in promoting these sustainable practices.

Source: Plastic Atlas

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The Intersection between Sustainable Plastic Packaging and Legislation

Ban on plastic straws

Useless application of packaging which should be avoided.

By enacting and enforcing legislations and policies, related to sustainable plastic packaging, governments can drive change at the industry level and promote a greener, more circular economy. As a result, governments are indispensable in promoting eco-friendly packaging solutions. Some examples of legislative actions include:

Bans on single-use plastics

Many countries and regions have introduced bans on single-use plastic items to reduce plastic waste and encourage the use of reusable or sustainable alternatives.

Implementing extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes

These regulations hold manufacturers and producers financially responsible for the disposal or recycling of their products, incentivizing the use of sustainable plastic packaging materials.

Recycling targets and guidelines

Governments can establish recycling targets for businesses and consumers to achieve, promoting responsible waste management and the use of recycled materials in packaging.

Tax incentives and subsidies 

Policymakers can offer financial incentives to companies that invest in sustainable packaging innovations, encouraging the development and adoption of eco-friendly materials and solutions.

Trends and Innovations in Sustainable Plastic Packaging

In the coming years, several groundbreaking trends and cutting-edge innovations will play a fundamental role in driving the evolution of sustainable plastic packaging. These trends and innovations are shaping the future of sustainable plastic packaging, offering more eco-friendly options and encouraging businesses and consumers to make more responsible choices when it comes to packaging materials. By embracing these advancements, we can significantly reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging and move towards a more sustainable, circular economy. Some trends and innovations in sustainable plastic packaging include:

1. Bio-based drop-in plastics

These environmentally friendly alternatives to oil-based plastics can be recycled along with regular PP (polypropylene) and PE (polyethylene) waste streams. Made from renewable resources like plant-based feedstocks, bio-based drop-in plastics have the potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while still offering the same performance characteristics as traditional plastics. Examples include bio-based polyethylene (bio-PE) and bio-based polypropylene (bio-PP), which are increasingly used in various applications such as packaging, automotive, and consumer goods. For instance, Neste and LyondellBasell are developing these kind of materials. For more detailed information about bio-based drop-in materials and the difference between bio-based and biodegradable, check this Nature article.

2. Edible and water-soluble packaging

Notpla‘s seaweed-based packaging is an example of an innovative solution for single-use condiment sachets and water containers, reducing plastic waste. MonoSol‘s water-soluble film is used for detergent pods and can be applied to other packaging applications, such as dissolvable food packaging and agricultural films.

3. Enhanced recycling technologies

Chemical recycling breaks down plastics into their monomers, allowing for the production of high-quality recycled plastic. Some examples are Loop Industries and Carbios, both companies that are developing advanced chemical recycling processes to convert PET waste into high-quality, food-grade PET resin.

    Procter & Gamble HolyGrail project digital watermark technology

    Mondi sustainable and innovative packaging and paper solutions

    Notpla seaweed-based packaging solution

    TIPA compostable packaging

    4. Bio-based barrier coatings

    Plant-based materials, such as cellulose nanocrystals and biopolymers, can replace non-recyclable layers in traditional plastic packaging, improving the recyclability of packaging. EarthCoating and TIPA are examples of companies that are creating innovative, bio-based films and coatings that enhance packaging performance while remaining (home)compostable or recyclable.

    5. Smart packaging

    Embedded sensors, QR codes, and NFC tags enhance the functionality and consumer packaging experience by providing information on product freshness, recycling instructions, and traceability. Companies like and Digimarc are at the forefront of developing technologies that integrate these smart features into packaging, promoting proper recycling and waste reduction. The HolyGrail project, spearheaded by Procter & Gamble, serves as an exemplary innovation in smart packaging. This initiative aims to improve plastic packaging recyclability by utilising digital watermark technology that can be scanned by recycling facilities to identify and sort various types of plastics. By enhancing the efficiency of plastic sorting, the HolyGrail project has the potential to significantly increase the amount of recyclable plastic, thereby reducing plastic waste in landfills and the environment.

    6. Design for recycling

    Mono-material packaging and detachable labels simplify recycling processes, helping to reduce plastic waste. Companies such as Amcor and Mondi are focusing on designing packaging solutions that are easy to recycle, using a single type of plastic or material, and incorporating easy-to-remove labels and closures. For more information about design for recycling read our insight page on this topic.

      In a nutshell

      Innovation fuels a greener future in plastic packaging, with collaboration between governments, industries, and consumers being vital for promoting sustainability and a circular economy. We aim to maximize material value, minimize waste, and reduce virgin resource demand. Legislation and policies drive industry-level change, while innovative trends such as alternative materials and novel design techniques shape the packaging landscape. Embracing innovation, while critically evaluating new solutions, allows us to significantly reduce the environmental impact of plastic packaging. United in our efforts, let’s redefine the plastic packaging industry through the power of innovation!

      Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog posts, where we’ll dive into more trends and innovations shaping sustainable design. Intrigued by game-changing materials or recycling technologies, such as reuse models for packaing? Join us as we uncover our insights, keeping you ahead in this ever-evolving field. Together, let’s champion change for a closed loop and invest in a greener future!