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Sustainable Innovation

By: Sara Mason
Posted: December 6, 2010, from the December 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

page 5 of 6

The bottom line is that green packaging is not a trend that is slowing down. Sustainable packaging has experienced positive growth over the past two years and is expected to continue. According to Global Industry Analysts’ Sustainable (Green) Packaging: A Global Strategic Business Report, the green packaging market should to be worth $142 billion by 2015. Drivers for growth include increased awareness about environmental hazards related to disposal and recycling of packaging wastes, stricter regulations and cost-cutting measures. And beauty brands are looking at sustainable packaging more and more. The study cites more than 600 new beauty products with a green label were introduced in Europe alone during the past two years, driven by consumer preference for eco-friendly plastic packaging materials.

Taking Bigger Steps

Although it is making strides, the beauty industry is lagging behind other product categories in adopting sustainable packaging, according to Organic Monitor. Although packaging is the highest environmental footprint of beauty products, research finds that it is generally overlooked when brand owners look at sustainability. Brand owners are focusing on green formulations, resource efficiency and life cycle assessments of their products when developing sustainability plans. Even organic beauty—many of which have sustainability built into their corporate ethos—are lagging in adopting sustainable packaging, according to the research.

Using natural resources and skipping the plastics manufacture altogether requires innovation of a different kind. Waco, TX-based Whole Tree has been researching uses for coconut husks for two years and recently partnered with the packaging firm Compadre to design and test different uses for coconut-based materials. In addition to creating packaging from the husks, the companies are working to improve the lives of coconut farmers by providing more income for farmers by using the husks. The company has developed a nonwoven process for combining coconut fiber with thermoplastic to create a strong, durable composite that can be formed for packaging. The packaging is primarily used for packaging that goes inside boxes, but it is exploring possibilities for outer packaging for a variety of applications as well.

Another potential innovation in sustainable packaging is quite simple: banana leaves. Israeli designer Tal Marco developed a concept that uses natural banana leaves, an abundant resource in many regions of the world. She contends that the waxlike surface is ideal, the leaves are very flexible and can last a long time after being cut from banana trees.

Therefore, they can be adapted to many types of packaging, and can be cut to form using die-cutting technology then folded into numerous forms without glue. The unique qualities of this material also allow packages to be opened by tearing the banana leaf along its natural perforation. Marco is working to develop applications for the beauty market, as well as other industries.