Brand Strategies on Sustainable Packaging with Lisa McTigue Pierce
April 17, 2023
Sustainable packaging has become more than just a hot topic and there are many factors to consider. You need guidance on how to be sustainable, buy-ins from your business on initiatives and understanding from your customers on why your packaging shifts. Even the largest brands are still testing ways to be more sustainable with their packaging. The Executive Editor of Packaging Digest, Lisa McTigue Pierce, shares innovative examples of big-brand sustainability in our new podcast.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:00:04] This is The 19. A 19-minute-or-less podcast that brings you marketing insights aimed at improving lives. Presented by Orange Label – the leading response marketing agency for wellness brands that grow when their customers do.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:00:22] Hello and welcome to The 19. I’m Rochelle Reiter, President of Orange Label. Earth Day is almost here and sustainability is a hot topic of conversation. Nearly 85% of consumers in a recent Mintel survey say they want to reduce harm to the environment. And the most common way they do this is by recycling packaging. Echoing this commitment, McKinsey finds that 70% of consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging and provide additional support if it was clearly labeled green. Today’s guest, Lisa McTigue Pierce serves as the Executive Editor at Packaging Digest and has covered the industry since 1982. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at IME West and today we’ll be discussing sustainable packaging. Lisa, welcome to The 19 – we’re so excited to have you!
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:01:11] Oh, my pleasure. Looking forward to it.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:01:17] So, Lisa, how have you seen the mindset change over the past few years as it relates to sustainable packaging?
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:01:24] Well, you know, over the last couple of decades, actually, since sustainability has become important in the packaging arena, we have seen several evolutions or shifts along the way. The most recent one is that packaging sustainability today is really being connected quite closely with the larger sustainability issue of climate change. And one of the things that we’re seeing now because of this recent shift is that a lot of brand owners are now measuring their packaging sustainability in the larger language of sustainability in general. So carbon measurement is going to become more important as we go along.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:02:14] Great, great. Can you tell us about the term “advanced recycling” as it pertains to packaging?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:02:21] Sure. Advanced recycling is a new method specifically for plastic packaging to be able to recycle more plastic packaging and even mixed plastics together as long as they’re pretty much in the same family. So, for example, olefins together, but advanced recycling got a couple of different words that it’s known by. It could be advanced recycling, it could be chemical recycling, it could be molecular recycling. All three of those are really talking about the same concept, perhaps using different technologies. But the concept is the same is you’re basically taking plastic packaging back down to its elements and then using those elements to make something else, whether it be more packaging or something else that’s plastic.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:03:17] Got it, Got it.
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:03:18] And that’s basically advanced recycling.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:03:21] What are some innovative brand examples that you can share in general about recycling? What are brands doing right now?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:03:28] Sure, they’re very active, and one of the reasons why we’re seeing quite a bit in the area of packaging recycling is because recycling is probably the most common way that consumers can play a part in the end of life for their packaging. And there’s a lot of different avenues that an empty package can go through at the end of its life. It could be landfilled, it could be recycled, it could be reused, it could be composted. And out of all of that right now, unfortunately, probably the most common thing is being landfilled. But on the more sustainable side of things, recycling is the most common thing that can be done, and the consumer actually feels like they’re playing a part when they’re able to put an empty package in a recycling bin rather than in the garbage. So a lot of brands know that and want the consumer to feel good about using their particular product, their brand. So being able to have a package that’s recyclable is actually quite important from the brands point of view. But one of the best examples that I’ve seen recently for a lot of different reasons is Coca-Cola and their Recycled Records campaign. And what this is all about is Coca-Cola had three brands that they identified that were in tinted plastic packaging, very specifically polyethylene terephthalate, which is PET also resin ID number one. So of these three brands that were in tinted bottles, they made the switch to clear bottles instead of tinted. And I’ll tell you why in just a second. But making that change, that brand change and knowing that a lot of their customers shopped by color and they didn’t want to, you know, lose their customers by saying, oh, my goodness, I can’t find my package anymore. So they wanted to call attention very specifically call attention to what could be seen by the customer as like a major change. And one of the reasons why they wanted to make this change was on the sustainability side of things clear PET as a material for recycling. So they call that material, recyclet, so the recyclet when it’s clear it has a much better chance of being used then if it’s tinted, if it’s got color to it. Once you add color to it, you’re kind of limited on how you can use what they make out of the recyclets. So Coca-Cola, in knowing that PET, PET is the highest recycled packaging plastic, it’s also the recyclet is also high in demand because a lot of brand owners also have goals for the percentage of recycled content in the new packaging. But, you know, because it was tinted, it was sort of limited. So they wanted to expand this to be able to have a better cycle of recycling their PET bottles. They made the switch to clear. So they came up with this campaign and it’s so ingenious that they went around the country in the United States and 4 or 5 different recycling facilities. They recorded sounds of recycling, the, you know, the bottles on a conveyor line or whatever. And they took those professional recordings and they gave them to a couple of gentlemen who were in the music business. And those gentlemen took the sounds and made music out of it.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:07:36] Wow.
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:07:37] They added some music of their own, so it’s not just the sounds of the recycling facilities. They added music to it of their own, but this process of taking recordings and using them in music is called music sampling. And another way of phrasing that is your recycling sounds to make music. So it all combined in there. And then the last piece of this and this is all the campaign that they use to explain what they were doing and why. And the last piece of this is that the consumers themselves, the customers, also have access to those recorded sounds so they could make their own music, make it their make it their own. And so they were able to call attention to what they did, explain what they did. Allow consumers to participate in the whole process. And part of this whole campaign is to now that they’ve educated their customer, this is going to, in their opinion, going to increase these consumers recycling. So hopefully they’ll get some new recyclers in this whole process. And they made some pretty good music. It’s all digital, so there’s no product that at the end has to be disposed of somehow. So there’s it’s a no waste campaign talking about waste and…
Rochelle Reiter: [00:09:14] Oh, my goodness.
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:09:15] Yes, I think it’s a success. It checks all the boxes and it covers, you know, everybody up and down the the supply chain in who would participate in this.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:09:27] What a great example.
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:09:28] Yes.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:09:29] So plastic replacement is a hot topic. Who is doing this well?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:09:33] There are a lot of brands that are doing this, mostly the bigger brands, to be honest with you, because this is quite a substantial change. And one of them is Nestlé. They switched over their Smarties Candies, which is a global brand. They switched that over to paper and it was a pretty big project. There were more than 400 stock keeping units.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:10:02] Wow.
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:10:02] So this was not a little pilot project that they did. This was pretty major. And one of the things that they were able to do, which for a big brand like this at the volumes for a global brand and at the volumes that they’re running this at, they were able to maintain the output by being able to run the paper packaging on the packaging line at the same speeds as with plastic and for the people who don’t know, the coefficient of friction is different for those two materials. So the paper packaging usually does not run at the high speed that plastic does because of that. But Nestlé figured it out.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:10:48] They did.
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:10:49] They figured out how to do that.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:10:51] You considered that example a success?
Lisa McTigue Pierce: [00:10:53] Yeah, actually if you don’t mind, I would like to point out a second one to the second one is the Absolute company. They’ve been working on paper bottles for their alcohol beverages. Specifically, the one I’m thinking of right now is a vodka mixed product and they are developing a paper bottle for that. And one of the things that I like about this is now I just, you know, praised Nestlé for making this major shift on a global brand at those volumes. This is not that this is a smaller project, a smaller brand, smaller project. But what they’re doing is they’re learning as they go and they are already working on paper bottle version number two as they go along. So a couple of different ways of doing it. And in both cases, though, I do want to point out that a lot of what’s going on in plastics sustainability still is step by step. It’s still a journey. You know, nobody’s reached the finish line yet.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:12:00] So some experimentation going on?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:12:02] Yes! Learning, learning going on as we’re developing technology as we go.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:12:08] Sure. There has been a rise in reusable packaging. This can get tricky with food. Can you explain this as well as some examples?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:12:16] Yes, I think what you’re talking about is the more recent reusable packaging being used with primary packaging. We’ve seen quite a bit of reusable packaging at the shipping level, what we might call either secondary or tertiary packaging. But at the primary pack level, the package that holds the product reusable packaging is relatively new, newer, and some of the issues about using reusable packaging with primary packs is the whole idea of cleaning and safety. You have to make sure that before you reuse that package that it’s been cleaned properly and is ready for reuse. There’s a new initiative out there, several years old now, but still what I would call new and that’s Loop, L-O-O-P, and this was the idea from the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Tom Szaky. And what it is, is it’s pretty much the old milkman model where the package is filled by the manufacturer, the consumer uses it and then returns the empty package back for cleaning and refilling, and it’s a slightly different path than the milkman where the consumers now can buy these products in a store. There’s a pilot in the north west with the Fred Meyer stores, which is part of Kroger, a pretty big name out there in retail. But most recently, they’ve also got a project with Walmart. And again, it’s a smaller scope in a particular location for Walmart, but they are testing this. So the consumer buys the product at the store, uses it, returns their empty container to a return bin at the same store that they bought it, and those return bins would be located at any of the stores that are participating in this project. It’s a way of, again, extending the options for end of life. It’s a way for consumers to still participate in sustainability for their own consumption, you know, their own consumption habits. I’m always amazed at Tom’s ability to come up with a pretty cool concept, think it through really well, and have answers for all the potential questions that come up and then get buy in from these major brand owners, from brand owners. So I know we’re going to continue to hear additional expansions in this Loop initiative.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:15:07] Sure, Sure. It’s fascinating. What advice do you have for brands to stay up to date in sustainable packaging practices?
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:15:14] Well, there’s a lot going on, I would say. You know, obviously I’d love it if they would read Packaging Digest, but there are other things that they can do. Some of the best advice that I always learned in covering my area, my markets, for the packaging side of things is, is figure out what your major markets are that you want to cover, cover them because and learn what those bigger trends are because those bigger trends are going to trickle down and have an impact on packaging. And I would say the same thing for sustainability. In addition to Packaging Digest, if you’re looking specifically at sustainable packaging, I would also point to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, an excellent organization that has led so many efforts here. They also are the ones who developed the How to Recycle label, which is genius in my opinion, and have come up with the How To Compost label, which, you know, if PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have their way, we’ll be seeing a lot more of that for sure as well. But just in general, you have to know what’s happening with sustainability. So this takes us all the way back up to the first question where you said what was the most recent shift? That most recent shift was connecting, packaging, sustainability to this larger issue of climate change and the people who are in sustainability in general, not sustainable packaging, but just sustainability. They’re very well versed on what’s happening from a climate change point of view. What the, you know, the talking points are, what the issues are. And once you know that, then again, you can benefit from that trickle down. If this is happening in sustainability, here’s how it’s going to impact in packaging. Let’s get ready for it.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:17:18] Great. Thank you so much, Lisa, for being on The 19 today. So great to hear your insights and share with other brands that are up to big things in sustainability.
Lisa McTigue Pierce:[00:17:27] My pleasure! Thanks for having me!
Rochelle Reiter: [00:17:33] Thank you for listening to The 19 with Packaging Digest Executive Editor Lisa McTigue Pierce. For additional insights on packaging news, you can find Lisa’s articles on PackagingDigest.com. To learn more about Orange Label’s strategy, data analytics, media, social content and design services, visitorangelabelmarketing.com.
Rochelle Reiter: [00:18:01] A special thank you goes out to our contributors, Creative Services Director Kelsey Phillips, Micah Panzich, who edits our show, and Copy and Content Strategist Ashley Andreen. Be sure to subscribe to The 19 Marketing Podcast by Orange Label on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify and leave us a review!
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