The Sustainable Materials Paradox

Sustainable Materials

Sustainability and sustainable materials have been a frequent topic here on Trending Packaging — but there’s a dark side to it.

Over the last years, consumer’s demand for sustainable materials and more responsible packagings has been rising non-stop. Jennifer McCracken, director of Global Innovations and Sustainability at HAVI Global Solutions, pointed towards the reasons:


“If a brand is able to help its consumers make a difference (…) they are able to make a sustainable contribution without making changes to their schedule or spending more money. ”


Sustainable materials are one of the most important deciding factors for customers nowadays. Put simply, customers want to feel like they made a difference by spending their money in responsible and eco-friendly products, (whether true or not). And that, by extension, forces the brands to become much more concerned about their materials.


The era of free information has enabled the general public to look deeper into the names that populate their world. That has made much easier to pick between different products based on different criteria — such as sustainability. Oddly enough, McCracken regretted that some newer sustainable materials have to be produced through very nasty means, which sometimes leave highly contaminating marks:


“Many renewable and sustainable materials rely on land resources (…) An extreme example of this would be if a rainforest is cleared to grow a sustainable material.”


Which leaves us with an uncomfortable paradox: newer materials also mean lesser control over their production and processes higher costs, and an overall greater risk by incorporating third-party procedures. All that looks sustainable isn’t so: recycling is the real deal, and it isn’t always easy to do. It becomes even scarier if we cross that information with the general public’s low tendency to recycle and the governments’ even lower concerns.

But there’s a light at the end of this dark, long tunnel. McCracken recommends always to choose known third-party logos and brands, which have already passed some legal requirements and sustainability standards of international bodies.“Sustainability” is slowly changing its meaning towards “efficiency”, which suits the recycling needs much better.

In the end, sustainability doesn’t come from the processes that generate the materials themselves only, but also from the possibilities of their future.


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