A growing market shift has reached a critical mass this year against disposable plastic packaging. Leading on the regulatory front, the EU announced a goal of making all of its plastic waste recyclable or reusable by 2030. In the private sector, major brands have committed to achieving 100 percent recycling and reuse of materials in the form of sustainable packaging by 2025.
This shift has created market opportunities for innovators to step in and collaborate with established brands and manufacturers. I interviewed the founders of two innovative companies working on sustainable packaging. Here is what I learned about them, their approach, and collaborative innovation needs in this emerging marketplace:
Julie Corbett is president and founder of Ecologic Brands, a sustainable packaging company that creates elegant bottles made from recycled cardboard boxes and recycled plastic bottles for the personal care, cleaning and food industries. Ecologic’s unique designs significantly reduce the need for plastics in packaging liquid-based products. The company’s eco.bottle® is comprised of a molded cardboard shell with a separate, recyclable plastic liner to keep liquids well-contained and at their best.
Corbett noted that in designing the product, she had a number of creative constraints she had to work with. These included the equipment and processes involved with how a bottle is filled, how a product is mixed, and how a cap is secured onto a bottle. The end result is that Ecologic’s bottles resemble in shape and form many of the plastic bottles out in the market today. But the eco.bottle has a much lighter environmental footprint.
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In describing her design choices, Corbett noted that “you have to make baby steps to make improvements” in the packaging industry in order to “innovate from within.” Doing so requires understanding the creative constraints within the industry associated with the packaging process and its existing infrastructure. Ecologic has been manufacturing its eco.bottles in California for over five years within that context; the company is now looking for the right strategic partner to help scale production.
Nick Gunia is co-founder of Cleanyst, the SodaStream of home and body care products. Cleanyst has developed a new platform for easily mixing most types of cleaning and personal care products from concentrate, saving money for customers and reducing the need for disposable plastic bottles.
The Cleanyst home-mixing system is unique in that it allows customers to reconstitute products that could not otherwise be reconstituted at home (i.e. virtually all personal care products and many cleaning products). Cleanyst provides the mixer — high-quality, plant-based concentrates — and reusable bottles; customers just add water and have the option to choose their favorite scents and other product attributes.
Gunia noted that Cleanyst is a spin-off of K.G. International, a company whose core strengths are packaging, concentrates and ingredients for consumer products. In developing Cleanyst, Gunia wanted to take what he already knew and apply it in an innovative and sustainable way. The end result is a system that significantly reduces both plastic packaging waste and carbon emissions for the company and the consumer.
Cleanyst plans to start selling to consumers online by early 2019. The company is aiming to attract third-party brands that are interested in reducing their environmental footprint by selling their products in concentrate form to consumers through the Cleanyst system.
Both Cleanyst and Ecologic are leveraging the market opportunity for sustainable packaging with their innovative designs, and yet each is doing so with its own unique approach to the problem. Their product innovations, along with those of others, are providing the means for achieving a market-wide shift away from disposable plastic packaging. Executing such a shift will require collaboration and support between such emerging innovative companies, established manufacturers and others. I look forward to seeing this market shift unfold.