2020 Will Be The Year Major Brands (Finally) Rethink Packaging

TerraCycle pepsico coca cola Unilever Include USA P&G Febreze Tide Loop Crest
This year, Coca Cola unveiled a bottle made from 25% recycled plastic while PepsiCo announced it will be investing $25 million in recycling infrastructure. As mbg recently reported in our natural beauty trends forecast, Dove also switched to bottles made from 100% recycled plastic in 2019, and its parent brand, Unilever, announced that it will use half as much new plastic in its products by 2025. Meanwhile, Olay began testing refillable pods for its most popular moisturizer. For mindbodygreen's brand-new line of nr+ supplements—released as a limited-edition run last month, to be launched in broader distribution in January 2020—we've packaged the recyclable glass bottles in completely compostable trays, made from mushrooms. Public awareness and unrest about plastic pollution have been building for years (hello, straw bans), but it wasn't until 2019 that major corporations really started to do something about it.  

What's driving the shift away from plastic packaging?

A new service called Loop has helped kick-start the push away from plastic. Launched in May of this year in Paris and a handful of states across the northeastern U.S, the service allows people to shop for grocery, household, and personal care products from brands like Tide, Febreze, and Crest. The kicker? For a small markup, these goods are shipped out in durable, reusable packaging that can be sent back in to be reused and refilled. Loop is a direct rebuttal to the idea that recycling can save us from the waste crisis: "Recycling is like Tylenol: You take it when you have a headache, but there are better ways to never get the headache to begin with," Tom Szaky, the CEO of TerraCycle and Loop, told mbg last year. In the six months since launch, Loop has kicked off in another five states and plans to enter six new markets before early 2021: The U.K., Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia, and potentially the West Coast of the U.S. Loop is also onboarding about one new brand to their platform every business day. "There's been a lot of organic demand from consumers. We just hear nonstop from people that they're really excited about the service, and they want to see it available in their state," explains Heather Crawford, the VP of marketing and e-commerce at Loop. Upward of 85,000 people have signed on to the waitlist so far, and they're not the only ones who want to see the service take off: Crawford has seen that the massive names—the Unilevers and P&Gs of the world—are eager to get involved and rethink the delivery of their products to keep up with the times. When mbg heard Unilever's CEO Alan Jope speak at this year's Climate Week NYC, he confirmed that Unilever is working to make its business more environmentally responsible— a change that investors are insisting on more often. "I'm noticing our investors increasingly asking us to run our business for the long term. This idea that the Street is only interested in short-term performance, I don't accept," Jope said. "We're going to see capital inflows into responsible business and capital outflows out of polluting and carbon-dense industries. It's that simple." For another signal that the low-waste life is trending in the business realm, we can look to Williamsburg's Package Free Shop: Opened in 2017 by zero-waste poster child Lauren Singer, the shop sells health, beauty, and living essentials that are free of single-use plastic parts and packaging (think shampoo bars wrapped in paper and compostable vegetable brushes). The company's recent $4.5 million seed funding round proves that investors are confident that people beyond the trendy Brooklyn 'hood want to opt into its zero-waste ethos. "In the past year, more people than ever before have realized the impact that single-use plastic and waste has on the environment," Singer tells mbg. The recent funding will help the Package Free team work toward their mission to make zero-waste products hyper-accessible to the average Joe or Jane: "Our goal is to manufacture products that are both the most sustainable ones on the market and are as accessible and convenient as buying a Unilever or P&G product."

All signs point to more packaging innovation in 2020.

David Feber, a partner at McKinsey & Company who works primarily in the consumer packaged goods space, tells mbg, "Sustainability is combining with other powerful trends such as e-commerce and digitalization to drive major disruption in packaging over the next several years in the consumer products space." This year, a McKinsey report on Gen Z buying habits found that this "hypercognitive" generation, born between 1995 and 2010, will likely only push the needle toward more sustainable packaging solutions as they come of age. And sustainable packaging is just the start: A report by BBMG and GlobeScan predicts that in order to stay relevant with the next generation, companies will have to take more mission-driven action. "While Gen Z is ready to champion brands who show bravery on the issues that matter, they are also the first to call bullshit when they see it, especially when they see brands promoting their commitment to 'doing well by doing good' while staying silent about the negative impacts at the heart of the business practices that make their success possible," it reads.