Recycled Content in Packaging: What you Need to Know


Recycled Content in Packaging: What you Need to Know

Sustainable packaging design is key for brands who want to reduce their environmental impact. Recycled materials are one of the top options for sustainable brand packaging. These can include recycled paper, plastic, and even fabrics. Using recycled content in your packaging is a surefire way to align your brand with consumer values and improve the…

Recycled Content in Packaging: What you Need to Know

Sustainable packaging design is key for brands who want to reduce their environmental impact. Recycled materials are one of the top options for sustainable brand packaging. These can include recycled paper, plastic, and even fabrics.

Using recycled content in your packaging is a surefire way to align your brand with consumer values and improve the sustainability of your packaging. This guide will help you understand the benefits of designing recycled packaging and provide tips for optimizing packaging design with recycled content.

Why Go Recycled?

Incorporating recycled content into your packaging can benefit various aspects of your business. Here are some of the ways designing with recycling in mind can improve your brand.

Shrink your Carbon Footprint

There is a major push for decarbonization across industries. One overlooked way companies can significantly reduce their emissions is by using recycled materials in products and packaging.

Take plastic as an example. Conventional virgin plastic production relies heavily on fossil fuels. Nearly 100% of plastics are produced from chemicals derived from fossil fuels. Producing packaging from virgin plastic can impede companies from achieving carbon-neutrality or other emissions goals.

In contrast, producing retail packaging with recycled polyethylene terephthalate instead of virgin material can lower the product’s emissions by 79%. Also, incorporating recycled high-density polyethylene or polypropylene into packaging can lower the material’s carbon emissions by up to 71%.

Use Fewer Resources

Recycled materials require less energy, water, and other resources to produce than virgin materials. This goes for all types of recycled materials, with the amount of resource savings varying by material.

Paper recovery has significantly increased over the past decade. And the energy savings has increased along with it. As much as 68% of energy can be saved by utilizing recycled instead of virgin paper in a product.

Cotton is another resource-intensive substrate. Using recycled cotton instead of regular cotton textiles can reduce the water required for production by up to 75%.

Promote the Circular EconomyThe goal of circular design principles is to close production loops to create a regenerative and restorative system.

Companies across industries are incorporating the principles of circular design into packaging. The circular economy is based on the idea of creating a closed loop of material flows. To achieve this goal, businesses are developing production systems that replenish nature instead of degrading it.

Taking what was formerly considered a waste material and turning it into a new product like retail packaging is part of circular design. Recovering materials removes them from the waste stream and gives them new life. Recycling closes production loops and supports a regenerative and restorative economic system.

Meet Consumer Demands

Buyers are increasingly seeking out sustainable products. Nielson’s annual Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 66% of consumers say they will spend more on a product from a sustainable brand.

This trend has also made its way to packaging. Even with the global pandemic, two-thirds of consumers think it is important for products they purchase to come in recyclable packaging. Additionally, more than half of buyers consider the sustainability of the packaging when making purchases.

Creating recyclable packaging with recycled content can ensure that conscious consumers do not overlook your brand when shopping.

Build Brand Image

Sustainable packaging marks an opportunity to build your brand. Aligning your brand values with consumer desires can enhance your brand image and build consumer trust.

On the flip side, there is a potential cost of inaction regarding sustainability. Consumers are becoming more vocal with their expectations for companies. Businesses that do nothing to lessen their impact risk negative feedback from customers and may harm their brand reputation.

A Two-Pronged Strategy

Strategic design for sustainably using recycled materials relies on two components. First, the packaging should be designed for recyclability. This means that the packaging material can easily flow through the recycling stream at the end of life. Recyclable packaging contributes to the supply of recycled content. To achieve recyclability, you should select materials for your packaging that will be

  • Commonly accepted in municipal recycling collection
  • Sorted by a material recovery facility
  • Reprocessed into feedstocks
  • Purchased by end markets as new materials

However, recyclable packaging is only one-half of the equation.

While recycling packaging “pushes” more recycled content into the market, there must also be a “pull” that draws the material back out into use. In other words, there must be a similar demand for recycled content to balance the market and resource use.

There are other uses for recycled content, such as construction applications or upcycling into furniture or textiles. Still, packaging remains a major opportunity for supporting the recycled material market, particularly for paper and plastics.

Defining Recycled Content

Creating packaging from recycled materials is an effective way to keep waste out of landfills. However, not all recycled materials are created equal. Recycled content can be divided into two types: pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. 

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) develops standards for a variety of sectors. ISO 14021 defines recycled content as “the proportion, by mass, of recycled material in a product or packaging.” The standard only considers pre- and -post-consumer waste to be recycled content. These materials can be characterized as follows:

Pre-consumer material: Material that is separated from the waste stream during manufacturing. This does not include scrap or other materials that are generated and reused during the same process. This material is also known as post-industrial recycled content.

Post-consumer material: Material that is generated by the end-users of a product that can no longer serve its initial purpose. This includes material returned from the supply chain.

Reusing is always better for sustainability than discarding. But in terms of impact, using post-consumer recycled materials is generally seen as doing more for the environment than utilizing pre-consumer material.

This is because pre-consumer material has not flowed through the entire production and consumption system. Reintroducing manufacturing scrap back into production is more sustainable than disposing of it, but this is typically already built into the system as manufacturing is inherently driven by efficiency.

On the other hand, post-consumer material has already been used for its intended purpose and is destined for a landfill. This material is more likely to end up in a landfill as waste than pre-industrial material. Therefore, recycling post-consumer content has a greater overall environmental impact.

Steps for creating packaging from recycled content

1) Set Recycled Content Goals for your Packaging

Setting clear targets can help your company determine the desired level of impact. This practice also makes it more likely that you will achieve your goals. Setting sustainability goals and sharing them publicly with shareholders helps hold your brand accountable and promotes consumer trust.

2) Get your Entire Team on Board

Getting buy-in from leadership, procurement, marketing, and other relevant players helps align your brand strategy. Top-down support facilitates sustainable packaging creation and expressing the unique story of the packaging to buyers. Having a unified vision also makes it easier to make decisions that help you achieve your brand’s sustainability goals.

3) Adapt Packaging Design Specifications

Developing sustainable packaging with recycled content may require changes in the product specifications.

Instead of basing your product specifications on your former packaging material, get creative! Designers can alter aesthetic qualities and performance standards to maximize the benefits of recycled packaging for the particular application.

You can also choose to lean into the recycled aesthetic as part of the brand image or story.

4) Strategically Manage Costs

Recycled material can be more or less expensive than virgin material, depending on the substrate. Many brands view the price premium of certain recycled materials as the cost to upgrade their packaging.

You can offset a substrate cost increase by reducing costs in other areas. Alternatively, you can leverage your sustainable packaging to increase prices. Collaborate with your team to determine the right cost management and pricing strategies for your brand.

5) Find Suppliers with Recycled Content Capabilities

Working with recycled content can require special equipment and strategic supply chain management. The easiest way to get started is by finding a supplier who already has these production mechanisms and suppliers in place. Edge2Edge Packaging is one such service provider that has what it takes to create unique and stylish packaging from recycled content.

6) Educate Consumers on Recycled Content

Retail consumers know they want sustainable packaging, but they may not always know what to look for. For example, there can be confusion from buyers on the difference between recycled and recyclable packaging. Educate retail buyers on the benefits of your recycled content product packaging to help them understand the impact of your brand. This can also help grow the market demand for recycled content.

How Edge2Edge Can Help

Edge2Edge Packaging is a service provider experienced in developing retail packaging with recycled content. We have the capability to create packaging from both pre- and post-consumer recycled material.

Here’s how Edge2Edge can help integrate recycled content into your brand’s next product or retail packaging design.

Design Assistance

Edge2Edge has a team of experts that can help your brand with packaging design. We can help your business determine the optimal packaging specifications to maximize its visual appeal and functionality. Ask your Edge2Edge advisor about prototyping to see your packaging design come to life.

Appropriate Equipment and Supply Chains

Edge2Edge has the manufacturing equipment and supply chains needed to effectively convert recycled materials into new products. Our ethical and reliable supply chains create transparency in our process. We offer material tracking and verification that allows you to share the exact percentage of recycled content in your packaging products with buyers. Passing along this transparency to consumers can help your company increase consumer trust and its brand reputation.

Committed to Developing Lasting Relationships

We pride ourselves on providing personalized end-to-end service and developing high-touch relationships with clients. Edge2Edge invests in our clients and works with them to develop packaging that is right for their brand. 

Supporting the recycled materials market by developing sustainable packaging is a win-win for your brand. Recyclable packaging made from recycled content lowers emissions and resource use. 

Designing this type of packaging can help your company achieve its sustainability targets while bolstering your brand image and reputation. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition also has a helpful guide with additional information on designing for recycled content. 

Contact Edge2Edge today to start your company’s sustainability journey today. Together, we can sustain your brand and the planet.