Plastics packaging innovation: Nine design rules transforming the industry today
By Cher Mereweather, Managing Director, Canada Plastics PactCanadian Plastics Recycling Sustainability
Here are some design interventions and innovative approaches that are in line with circular economy principles and evolving recycling systems.
The demand to improve supply chain efficiency, reduce expenses, enhance product safety, and sustain product quality is driving the demand for single-use and, too often than not, hard-to-recycle packaging. However, this linear approach to packaging is contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastic waste ending up in our landfills and the environment each year.
Poor packaging design, problematic materials, and excess packaging are disrupting the plastics recycling industry – but it doesn’t have to be this way. On a global scale, we’ve identified design interventions and innovative approaches that are more in line with circular economy principles and evolving recycling systems.
How is the Canada Plastics Pact (CPP) leading the plastics value chain towards innovation?
The Golden Design Rules (GDR) for Plastics Packaging, launched by the Consumer Goods Forum Coalition of Action on Plastic Waste, were developed collaboratively with 41 global companies in response to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme.
Since April 2022, the Canada Plastics Pact (CPP) with the support of its Partner PAC Global and its Redesign Working Group has been leading consultations around these nine packaging rules in Canada, following the development of some Canadian-specific guidance. Key actors across the plastics value chain are working collaboratively to drive innovation and scale action to ensure unnecessary and problematic plastics are eliminated by 2025, while also improving the way packaging is designed for reuse and recyclability.
Choices about materials, colors, labels and adhesives, shape and size of packaging all affect the circularity of packaging. They impact whether packaging will be rejected and end up in a landfill, or if it will contaminate recycling systems, hindering the recyclability of even well-designed packaging. The Golden Design Rules are timely, enabling businesses to take immediate action to address some of the most pressing concerns.
CPP Partners that have innovated their product designs to become more sustainable have noticed how big of an impact a small change can have to reduce plastic waste and pollution. A few examples include:
- Club Coffee, one of the largest coffee roasters and sustainable packaging innovators in North America, has set new benchmarks for coffee packaging by implementing the GDRs. Design changes to its roast & ground coffee packaging have reduced plastic use by 48% compared to a similar foil quad seal bag, 83% compared to a similar plastic canister, and reduced carbon emissions by 78% compared to plastic canisters.
- Bimbo Canada, the nation’s leading bakery, has also reduced its use of single-use plastic by approximately 200 metric tonnes annually when it transitioned to compostable cardboard bread tag clips.
- General Mills’ Liberté Yogurt brand changed their packaging from black lids with white writing to clear, transparent lids to improve the recyclability of their packaging.
While we still have a long road ahead to address all challenges around packaging design, the GDRs serve as a tool to enable innovation and evolution of plastic packaging while providing common design guidelines to simplify and align the market. As countries around the world implement policies and measures to reduce or eliminate plastic waste, the GDRs will be reviewed and iterated to incorporate learning and respond to a changing context.
There is no doubt that plastics serve many practical purposes in our daily lives, but with an unprecedented amount of plastic pollution flowing into our natural environment, the scale of the challenge to ensure plastics are reused, recycled or composted will not only require new ways of thinking, but also require businesses to unite and take bold risks to transform a broken system into one that is able to scale impact.
All in all, moving the entire system forward within a collaborative ecosystem will be essential to ensuring success.
Creating the pathways for a circular economy for plastics
The UN Global Plastics Treaty is proof that the global movement towards circularity requires a collaborative approach, with more than 175 countries working together to tackle this challenge. It’s clear that we cannot address this issue in siloes, and we must work together to accelerate progress towards a circular future for plastics by embracing innovation and experimentation.
The CPP is a unique collaborative platform that aims to create a circular economy for plastics in Canada by bringing together businesses, government, NGOs, and other key stakeholders from across the plastics value chain. Together, more than 90 CPP Partners are working towards clear, actionable targets as part of CPP’s Roadmap to 2025, which outlines its vision and strategy for keeping plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
The CPP’s guidance documents, driven by the collective expertise of its working groups, are a critical tool in supporting stakeholders to implement circular economy principles in their operations, by sharing knowledge and innovative solutions.
In 2023, CPP will be releasing several publications to further support the industry towards this transition:
- The Unnecessary and Problematic Plastics List aims to determine whether various plastic packaging is necessary in the first place, and if it is, what packaging is likely to have a place in the circular plastics packaging economy;
- The Recycled Content Guide will provide guidance on increasing the use of recycled materials in packaging;
- The Compostable Packaging Guide will help the industry understand the current context of certified compostable packaging and make informed choices about where to consider its use in Canada;
- The Pathways to Mono-material Flexible Packaging Guide provides solutions to improve the recyclability of flexible plastic packaging and films in Canada; and
- The Flexibles 5-year Roadmap sets out a clear vision and strategy for transitioning to circular flexible packaging.
In addition to these publications, the CPP has also conducted several studies to date, such as the British Columbia Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) Packaging and Paper Products (PPP) report, which helps to better understand the quantity and composition of PPP disposal and diversion from the ICI sector and a Study on Reuse and Refill Plastic Packaging in Canada to evaluate and highlight the opportunities to implement reuse and refill systems as a way to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste and move towards a more circular economy for plastic packaging.
These studies and guidance documents have been instrumental in shaping Canada’s understanding of the current landscape and guiding the industry towards collective and effective action to meet the demands of the circular plastics economy of the future.
Calling all stakeholders in the plastics value chain to join the movement
The Canada Plastics Pact works closely with its Partners to promote knowledge sharing, foster collaboration, and develop and accelerate innovative solutions that advance the circular plastics economy.
To advance our collective effort, the CPP is encouraging stakeholders from across the plastics value chain to join the CPP and sign on to the Golden Design Rules to demonstrate their commitment to circular plastics packaging. Stakeholders will gain access to a network of experts who can provide guidance and support towards keeping plastics in the economy and out of the environment.
We welcome companies of all sizes and sectors. Don’t hesitate to reach out at email@example.com to learn more about how CPP can support your sustainability and ESG efforts.
Cher Mereweather is the Managing Director of Canada Plastics Pact. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.