​Listening to consumers, adapting to the regulatory landscape, and embracing innovation are key factors for companies trying to

Reducing the environmental impacts of packaging

​Listening to consumers, adapting to the regulatory landscape, and embracing innovation are key factors for companies trying to reach their sustainability goals. With these driving forces pushing the packaging industry and its material suppliers towards a more sustainable future, how can and should companies respond?

Nate Pajka | 30 Nov 2021

Responding to Consumer Trends

Taking the pulse of consumers is the first step towards identifying meaningful solutions. Last year, McKinsey launched a survey in ten countries and conducted an analysis to understand how consumers felt about sustainable packaging. Here are some key findings:

  • In the US, over 50% of consumers are deeply concerned about the environmental impact of packaging, and 60-70% will pay more for a product packaged sustainably
  • Packaging sustainability is a less important purchasing criterion than price, quality, brand, and convenience
  • Consumers would buy sustainably packaged products if labeling was clearer, and if sustainable packaging was more ubiquitous

Companies can address these issues via a holistic, educational approach, which includes, but is not limited to, the following steps:

  • Educating the consumer using online educational content or supporting sustainability advocacy groups
  • Improve/include sustainability labeling on packaging
  • Understand how end-users recycle and make it easier for them

Responding to Regulatory Landscape

The US does not have a federal recycling program, but individual communities develop their own programs best suited for their needs. However, this leads to a more fragmented system, often with uneven access and unequal services. Additionally, funding for collection and transportation of recyclables has been scarce since China stopped accepting imports. As a result, recycling has been largely sent to landfills or incinerators.

One legislative solution to alleviate this problem is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is a policy approach that assigns financial and/or operational responsibility to the packaging producers for product end-of-life. Because the producer is responsible for collecting, sorting, and processing, they are incentivized to make packaging easier to recycle. Maine has implemented an EPR program, while Oregon and Washington have passed EPR bills (Source: Sustainable Packaging Coalition)

Responding to Innovation

  • Biobased innovation – As research continues to uncover new possibilities in the world of sustainable packaging, processes and designs become optimized. Recently, biobased innovations have included bowls made from sugarcane, bubble wrap made from sheep's wool, and food packaging made from palm leaves.
  • Emissions transparency – Advancements in environmental science have enabled companies to accurately publicize carbon footprint data on their products and operations. This builds public trust and transparency in the supply chain. It also helps companies set benchmarks.

Consumers should continue to challenge companies to improve the sustainability of their packaging. Pushing producers to provide clear, digestible sustainability information will better inform purchasing decisions and foster trust. Consumer buying power and active participation in educational discourse are strong forces we can use to help build a more sustainable future.


Nate Pajka is the Sustainability Specialist for Metsä Board Americas. He works with sales and marketing to communicate the sustainability-related benefits of our products and services to the Americas market. He also works closely with the Product Safety and Sustainability team in Finland to translate the team's objectives to the Americas and act as their sustainability expert in the region.

Related articles