Sustainability Unboxed: The Rise of Innovative Packing Startups
By Morgan Kahn ’24 Co-Managing Director
In an era marked by environmental consciousness, the packaging industry has undergone a remarkable transformation. Traditional packaging methods, often synonymous with waste and pollution, are making way for innovative solutions driven by a growing number of startups. This shift in packaging practices was fueled by an increase in consumer demand as consumers actively seek brands that prioritize the environment. As of 2022, a remarkable 82% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. Moreover, a substantial 63% of consumers have become less inclined to purchase products encased in packing that pose harm to the environment.
Traditionally, product packaging has been predominantly single-use plastics. Single-use plastics primarily consist of fossil fuel-based chemicals, known as petrochemicals, and are designed to be disposed of shortly after use, often within mere minutes. Our heavy reliance on plastic packaging has resulted in astonishing annual waste production of 300 million tons of plastic, with half of it being dedicated to single-use plastics. This massive waste output presents a grave threat to wildlife and ecosystems, making sustainable alternatives more critical than ever. Recent research has unveiled that 90% of seabirds and 100% of turtles have ingested plastic materials that remain in their guts, threatening their lives. Currently, we lack the infrastructure necessary for the proper management of our plastic waste. Therefore, it is imperative to curtail the use and manufacturing of plastic, as this represents the most efficient method to prevent the spread of this toxic waste.
Packaging itself is not inherently bad, it serves a crucial purpose of safeguarding products as they make their way to consumers. When designed thoughtfully, packaging has the potential to play a significant role in waste reduction. This holds true in the food industry, where the energy expended on packaging accounts for only 10% of the overall energy required for the production, transportation, storage, and preparation of food. Investments in innovations in food packaging hold promise in significantly reducing waste sustainably by effectively preserving the product. Packing has the potential to mitigate the approximately one-third of all produced food that goes to waste, squandering valuable resources. Packaging can help prevent food waste and other misuse of resources, creating a sustainable positive impact on the environment.
Startups have emerged as powerful agents of change in the pursuit of sustainable packaging solutions. Their agility, innovative spirit, and dedication to environmental causes have fueled a wave of fresh ideas and solutions. To date a substantial $27.95B of capital has been injected into the sustainable packing startups, solidifying this market as an emerging force within the B2B sector. The main innovation solutions focus on creating packaging that has little to no waste. Biodegradable materials, such as plant-based plastics and compostable packaging, are being developed by startups like Ecovative Design and Tipa. Their solutions aim to eliminate the persistent problem of plastic pollution by offering packaging that naturally breaks down without harming the environment. The “zero waste” movement has gained momentum, with startups like Loliware, producing edible, biodegradable packaging made from seaweed and other organic materials. This approach minimizes waste and contributes to a circular economy.
In a world increasingly attuned to environmental concerns, the rise of innovative packaging startups has become a pivotal force of change in the packaging industry. As this transformation unfolds, it is abundantly clear that the traditional packaging methods synonymous with waste and pollution are being eclipsed by visionary solutions fueled by the dedication of these startups. There is growing recognition among companies that sustainable practices can also be economically advantageous. Brands that embrace eco-friendly packaging are finding that they can attract and retain customers while saving on disposal costs. The rise of sustainable packaging startups is not just a trend; it is a fundamental shift in the way we think about and use packaging materials. As consumers and investors alike continue to support these initiatives, the sustainable packaging movement is poised to make a lasting and positive impact.
Morgan Kahn is a senior from Lee, NH pursuing a major in Business Administration with focuses on Finance and Information Systems and Data Analytics (ISBA) with a dual major in Sustainability at the University of New Hampshire. This is Morgan’s second year as the Co-Managing Director of the Rines Angel Investment Fund. She has enjoyed leading the class as she deepens her knowledge of angel investing. Over the years Morgan has actively worked to incorporate her sustainable practices into the investment strategies of the Rines Fund. This past summer, she worked at Impax Asset Management where she furthered her understanding of sustainable investments. Morgan aspires to build a career focused on sustainable investments post-graduation.