Pushing the envelope

by Alex Baverstock
Brands & Media

The desire for sustainable packaging survives 2020

It’s fair to say that most marketers didn’t expect to be thinking about washable packaging in 2020, but just over one in five (22%) people in Britain now say they wash or disinfect their packaged groceries and household products,1 and one in ten (11%) wear gloves when handling them.2

Screenshot of "The daily mash"

In a year where innovation in packaging was expected to continue to be driven by greater sustainability, the COVID-19 outbreak prompted a rise in single-use plastics3 and a reduction in sales of loose products, as sales of their packaged equivalents increased.4 Do these understandable shifts to perceived ‘safer’ product options threaten the progress made on sustainability?

Despite the immediate threat of COVID-19, increasing numbers of people agree that climate change is the longer-term risk to humanity. There is strong global support for a ‘green’ economic recovery from the pandemic,5 and the vast majority of people say that they ‘will seek out products that are healthier and better for the environment’ as a long-term impact of the virus – even if willingness to pay for them might still expose the gap between what people say and what they do.6 People want to do the right thing, they just expect brands to make it easy for them.7  This is dicussed further here


People want to do the right thing, they just expect brands to make it easy

for them

Bottle of Black Label
Bottles of Bacardi

Overall, 2020 saw some notable innovations by manufacturers to help us all do just that. In July, Diageo announced their new plastic-free, paper-based spirits bottle, due to make its debut with its Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky brand in early 2021.8 Bacardi-Martini followed suit in October, announcing ‘the world’s most eco-friendly spirits bottle’ which will biodegrade in 18 months, claiming that this will replace 80m plastic bottles (3,000 tons of plastic) currently produced by Bacardi across its portfolio of brands every year.9 Both companies are sharing these technologies with other leading manufacturers to bring this innovation to other (non-competing) product categories.

Plastic waste in sea
Pringle's cans

Pringles is also undergoing change, with the announcement of a trial of paper cans – with either paper or recyclable plastic lids – in selected Tesco stores.10 This means it is much easier for consumers to recycle the empty packaging and prevents them from needing to find a specialist recycling centre.

Collection of products with plastic packaging

Meanwhile, L’Oréal has also made it easier for people to recycle its plastic cosmetics packaging by offering collection points across UK shops.11 Consumers can drop off empty make-up products, which will then be collected, sorted, cleaned and recycled into plastic pellets, which can be used to make other products. 

With a surge in e-commerce since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tesco launched their ‘LOOP’ initiative, an online shopping service that delivers products only in reusable packaging.12  In a survey last year, we saw that 28% of Britons said they would consider using such a service,13 and it is likely that after the events of this year, consideration will be even higher now.

These initiatives are examples of how brands are cutting waste and signalling their alignment with the zeitgeist. Our Global Trends data from this year found that 72% tend to buy brands that reflect their personal values (up from 56% in 2019). As ever the ‘say-do gap’ for consumers remains, but so does concern about climate change and an expectation on businesses and governments to act. This means that the manufacturers and retailers that offer more sustainable options, with fewer barriers (e.g. higher cost, or significant behaviour change) should build themselves long-term reputational equity and better chances of success in 2021, and beyond.

Now 72% tend to buy brands that reflect their personal values – up from 56% in 2019

Alex Baverstock

Alex Baverstock

UK Product & Pack Testing Lead