Packages and closures for packaging

Pandemic and ecology – war on two fronts or systemic solutions for new times

Does the outbreak of the pandemic relieve the businesses from the eco-responsibilities? Although we would prefer to simply say “no” and dismiss any excuses, we should remember that it has been a year now since we started living in a new reality, while previous certainties became uncertain.
The outbreak of the pandemic coincided with the period when many companies worked on revolutionary eco-solutions. They planned to implement (or even did) new packaging made from PCR (regranulate), paper labels and supply chains built with trusted subcontractors who follow the sustainability rules, hold corporate social responsibility certificates and employ internal recycling systems.

Unfortunately, due to the broken supply chains between Asia and Europe and successive lockdowns introduced in one country after another, many companies turned away from their resolutions to go eco or even discontinued their already-implemented ideas. It was not a result of bad faith, but rather the necessity in order to maintain financial liquidity, keep the employees, as well as introduce or improve online sales. In consequence, the prospective eco-changes have been set aside.
They also had to be tabled because of the costs. Production of eco-friendly packaging is a lot more expensive than the production from primary materials. Accepting these costs or pushing them onto the consumers by raising prices during the crisis, which could deepen, was out of question.

Simple packaging – necessary evil or eco-salvation
Conducting war efforts on many different fronts is not a good tactical move. Instead, one should focus on one specific battleground – in this case it is to stay on the market with all healthy employees aboard.
Last year, changing packaging, labels or closures suppliers was more often a necessity than a free choice. When empty storages and long lead times disrupted supply chains, companies had to find replacements. In normal circumstances the process of choosing new partners involves many steps, for instance buying small test batches. In critical situations we focus on two points: preserving the same quality which had been provided by the previous supplier and availability of the products. The look and colour have been deemed details of the lower importance. For instance, producers left without closures were forced to implement a quick redesign of their packaging.
There are still difficulties with completing orders for packaging with non-standard colouring or finishes. It is especially the case with smaller batches. Since such orders take much more time to complete than the  standard ones, they are pushed to the end of the factory queue.
The circumstances somewhat forced the cosmetic and detergent producers to go more eco. We already know that simple products in uniform, light colours are best for mechanical recycling. The labels also had to be simplified. Since some batches of bottles differ in shape, the cosmetic and detergent producers chose the labels that fit the smallest bottle design. Such reduction is one of the pillars of the ecological 3xR rule = Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Paradoxically, impeded realisation of complicated orders and unstable supplies have had some contribution in maintaining or promoting the eco-trend.

Homocentric consumers

The pandemic has influenced not only businesses, but also consumers. Right now we are witnessing the emergence of new “species”: homocentric human. Our homes have been transformed into offices, schools, restaurants, cinemas, concert venues, shopping malls and general stores. Sociologists have observed an interesting trend: people have limited their daily, out-of-home activities to the closest surrounding. We behave as if the danger was literally palpable and in case it chased us, we would be able to run for 500 metres, but not any farther.

Homocentric approach is also about building a safe haven, baking own bread, cleaning and decorating – all according to the “less waste” philosophy.
The pandemic-related “forced” free time is being partly used for browsing different online offers, comparing them and switching between open browser tabs.
Products available in the online stores had been mostly prepared for traditional, brick and mortar shops. Therefore, their layout had been created according to the rule that 80% of shopping decisions is made in front of the store shelves. In the periods of the most rigorous restrictions everything went upside-down. Our walks between the store shelves became completely virtual. Eye-catching labels lost their power of attraction. The customers started paying more attention to user reviews, composition and simple packaging. Paradoxically, plastic packaging stylised to resemble an amber-like, pharmaceutical, glass bottle with a wastepaper-like label with the list of natural ingredients has become so compelling that it is more likely to be chosen by consumers leaning towards the eco-philosophy than virtually the same, but colourful plastic.
Despite such marketing gimmicks, manufacturers start to understand that carefully selected composition, information on where to place the empty packaging, as well as reducing the volume of the previously unused raw materials in the production of the packaging elements, are more important factors than “fake” eco-strategies.
None of the eco-friendly solutions – whether during the pandemic or after the return to “normalcy”, should impact the final quality of the product. It makes no sense to use a dispenser from recycled plastic if it is likely to malfunction before the product will have been used, not to mention refilling. Hence, it is more effective to use virgin plastic which will ensure the reliability of the element and balance the production of faulty closures.

During the springtime lockdown the producers were warned about the so-called “vanishing” at several different layers. They could not vanish from the stores (traditional or online ones), they could not vanish from the sight of the consumers (stop advertising on the Internet or other traditional forms of media), nor vanish from the consumers’ homes (less frequent shopping should be compensated by filling up bigger baskets – 2+1 offers). These rules stemmed from the fact that once consumers wean off our products, it is difficult to once again win them over.

Today we can’t give up quality nor eco-solutions

The restrictions change according to the number of COVID cases. The question we should ask is: will the consumers stop buying online, and to what extent will they return to their old habits of buying in brick and mortar shops?
Can manufacturers, now armed with new data on consumers, afford to revert to previous customs? Will they not get behind if they give up on including the packaging material composition or information about the dedicated litter bin for the empty packaging?
Will the replacement packaging closures without colouring, special finishes or coatings become the target solution? Will the customers hit by the pandemic-related crisis be willing to pay more for the eco-products? In some cases choosing one element – for instance a recycled bottle, may result in such a slight price raise that conscious customers might agree to pay a little extra.
We should remember that our marketing and sales strategies will be judged by the consumers and their wallets. In sum, the producers should focus on winning over the biggest target groups, paying extra attention to the most demanding  consumers.
Since the homocentric people focus on their homes and private matters, let our products be appreciated for their high reliability and finest quality not only for people, but also for the planet.
Whether we decide to implement sustainable solutions or not, we should always try to educate the consumers. Raising awareness on recycling, reprocessing of materials and conscious packaging selection is a perfect start to become an eco-friendly company.

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