What’s the Latest in Recycled Packaging?

March 5, 2024 - Emily Newton

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As more consumers, supply chain specialists, manufacturers and others become increasingly interested in recycled packaging, a wide variety of new options are arriving on the market or being developed. What are some of the most recent innovations?

A Sprite Bottle With No Label

Coca-Cola will run a small market test in the United Kingdom until March 2024. The goal is to see how people respond to Sprite bottles without labels. Rather than the usual flexible plastic label on each one, the containers have laser engraving to show the necessary product information. The hope is that these bottles — made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — will also be easier to recycle because there’s no need to remove a label first.  

Designers also opted for a color-coded system to help people recognize their favorite beverages at a glance. The original version of Sprite has a green cap, while Sprite Zero bottles close with a transparent, black-tinted one. 

Only 12 Tesco Express stores in the UK market will have these bottles. Still, Coca-Cola executives see this test as a way to explore how people react to the new recycled packaging and assess whether they need to do more to increase customer uptake. 

However, some people still see room for improvement with this effort. The main issue they point out is that the bottle itself is still single-use plastic, so removing the labels isn’t causing a big enough change. 

In 2023, some London customers had the chance to try refillable glass bottles when drinking Coke Zero. Each container was reused up to 20 times, making it much more sustainable. It’d arguably be even better if customers got in the habit of refilling a bottle at a soda fountain each time they’d normally grab a bottled beverage from a refrigerated case at a convenience store or similar business. 

Better Eco-Friendliness for Bread Bags

There’s also a trend of bread sold in bags with progressively larger amounts of post-consumer recycled materials. One packaging executive familiar with the baking industry believes loaves will eventually come in carbon-neutral packages. The push toward greener packaging extends to the closures, too. 

Most people can immediately envision the colorful plastic closures on modern bread bags. But some companies have experimented with wood and paper alternatives, including less carbon-intensive possibilities.

Some other brands are going in a different direction than recycled packaging. For example, Earth & Wheat focuses on bread that would ordinarily get discarded for appearance-based reasons. That company recently switched to compostable packaging. 

It was already using recyclable corrugated cardboard packaging for bread boxes, but some loaves still came wrapped in plastic. The new, compostable options feature biopolymers that have characteristics similar to plastic but are more eco-friendly and less dependent on fossil fuels. 

More Beauty Products Sold in Mono-Material Packaging

Most people familiar with recycled packaging understand the need to make it as appealing as possible for consumers. When it’s easy for people to recycle, they’ll be more likely to develop good, lasting habits and live more sustainably. 

One way we’re seeing progress in that area is through mono-material packaging. As you might guess from the name, it means all parts of the packaging consist of a single material. Such options are typically much more recycle-friendly than those made from several materials. In the latter case, people may need to disassemble the package and look for recycling symbols — or the lack thereof — on each part. 

The beauty industry is particularly interested in mono-material packaging. In one example, French brand L’Occitane en Provence debuted a recycled and recyclable tube for one of its product lines. The mono-material container goes through an advanced chemical recycling process that turns previously unrecyclable plastic waste into a recycled raw material called TACOIL. This material replaces the oil used to make virgin plastics. 

In another case, a company launched a mono-material jar that has up to 44% post-consumer waste in the recycled packaging. Another sustainable feature of this package is that it holds two products at once. That design approach means people can keep their products safely stored, well organized and ready to use without using excessive packaging. 

A Rise in Recycled Packaging for Wines

Many wine brand leaders are interested in how to pursue recycled packaging for their products. Finding the right options can be tricky, especially because the beverage containers must be durable enough to withstand transport and handling. However, people are still coming up with plenty of ideas. 

One comes from California’s Ron Rubin Winery. It recently launched Blue Bin, a wine brand packaged in recycled packaging made from PET. The brand’s name comes from the color of many recycling bins. 

These bottles are also 85% lighter than conventional glass ones. The reduced weight should allow the company to pack more cases per truckload, minimizing the product’s overall product emissions. The company’s executives are also enthusiastic that consumers can enjoy the wine in more places due to many places currently forbidding people from drinking from glass bottles.

Elsewhere, an Australian wine brand made its recycled packaging from PET in an unusual flattened shape. The idea is that slimming down the container will lead to fewer materials used overall, leading to more eco-friendly operations. 

Some companies prefer to take the reuse route rather than investing in recycled packaging. One winemaker says reusing his bottles and only buying new containers when necessary reduces the enterprise’s carbon footprint to 10 times lower than it would be without that reuse component. 

Numerous multi-country efforts exist where retailers and manufacturers can sign up with partners that collaborate and help them transition to putting beverages in reusable containers. Many of those programs focus on making it as easy as possible for consumers to return beverage packages to dedicated points rather than discarding them. Most sustainable packaging changes require consumers to adopt new behaviors or get used to things. This example is no different. 

Recycled Packaging Progress Matters

People usually realize there are multiple ways to increase sustainability and that no single effort will be the magic fix. These recycled packaging experiments are important because they’ll help manufacturers, supply chain workers and more determine what works best and which innovations still need further improvements. The more things professionals learn now, and the more closely they listen to consumer feedback, the easier it will be to find sustainable and durable possibilities. 

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Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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