Why is sustainable packaging expensive

Table of Contents

Sustainable packaging costs more due to expensive materials, complex production processes, and limited supply chains, raising prices by 10-25%.

The Materials Used in Sustainable Packaging

Sustainable packaging is produced from environmentally friendly materials, which are often recycled or come from renewable sources. The shift in the assessment of the material used is caused by the growing awareness of the negative environmental effects of the waste produced.

Comparing Traditional and Sustainable Materials

The benefits of the traditionally used materials like plastic, glass, and metal are obvious. The materials, such as plastic, are light and relatively cheap, so they do not add to the energy and transport costs significantly. They are heavily criticized for their non-biodegradable properties: plastic contaminates the oceans, bulks the landfills, and more, the stats are persuasive, as more than 300 million tons of this material is produced worldwide, a significant proportion of which enter the environment Kohler . On the other hand, there are numerous examples of sustainable materials, such as bioplastics, recycled paper, and vegetable fibers. The first one is produced from renewable materials like corn starch and allows to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by up to 70% Carus et al. Synthetic materials require more resources for production and processing and their applicability is limited by their low availability and unstable prices. The use of waste materials is useful for the environment, although the recycling process and facilities are costly and require a lot of energy. For example, the cost of waste paper recycling can reach 50% higher than the cost of producing pure paper.

This way, the shift to more sustainable packaging is connected with the increase of the cost of the production of recycled and bio-based materials, although they are beneficial for the environment. The availability and price of the latter are unstable, as the feedstocks compete with the food industry and are a matter of ethical concerns, so the producers might artificially increase the prices of the secondary materials. The initial expenses, however, account for a small proportion of benefits gained through reduced landfill waste, simpler procedures, or even tax benefits. All in all, the best solution is to combine the efforts of industry and government to help the sustainable materials improve and be accessible for mass use while not resulting in financial losses for the manufacturers.


Production and Technological Challenges

Optimization of sustainable packaging production faces unique challenges related, on the one hand, to the specifics of manufacturing processes, and, on the other hand, to the need to scale these solutions to meet global challenges.

The Complexity of Sustainable Production

Production of sustainable packaging materials is a complex process that greatly differs from the production of conventional materials. For bio-based materials, the process begins with the cultivation of biomass which requires specific climate conditions and types of soil . This stage is crucial because it directly affects the yield and quality of the material. Afterwards, the materials should be transformed into the actual packaging product every of which requires separate and complicated biochemical process, such fermentation or polymerization.Recycling paper into new packaging products saves around 4,000 kWh of energy per ton. The process of cleaning and reprocessing paper materials consumes two to four times more energy than producing paper from scratch. Apart from that, the cleaning process is an unavoidable part of the production as it removes impurities and ensures the quality of the final product.

Apart from that, it is difficult to manage the processes of integrating recycled products into the production. Recycling facilities face the challenge of having to sort waste accurately which is complicated, requires significant human resources, or sophisticated sorting machines. The cleaning process is important to remove contaminants from the sorted products which can be highly energy-consuming. The current infrastructure cannot support production on the scale needed to resolve global problems as only 9% of all plastics produced worldwide are actually recycled .

In the case of bio-based materials, there is a scarcity of unprocessed land as it is already put to agricultural use with increasing global population becoming a concern in this regard. In 2050, the predicted population of the world is 9.7 billion, resulting in significant competition for land, water, and other resources between food and materials production. A wide range of investment is necessary for the creation of up-to-date recycling facilities which is parallel to the investment needed for the actual production. These raise concerns about the financial viability of coordinating these investments.


Market Demand and Supply Dynamics

Market Demand and Supply Dynamics

In general, it might be accepted that the market demand and supply for sustainable packaging might be influenced by the issues related to the consumer preferences, production capabilities, as well as availability of sustainable materials .

The Influence of Consumer Preferences on Pricing

The demand for sustainable packaging has increased due to the consumers’ focus on eco-friendly products and their growing interest in environmental issues. In terms of the recent research, “more than 60% of consumers are willing to pay more for products packed in sustainable materials” . It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that recent changes in the consumers’ needs and preferences are driven by the increase in the values, such as sustainability and environmental responsibility.

However, it should be stressed that although the demand for sustainable packaging has significantly increased, the product price remains higher than that of the traditional one.The premium of sustainable packaging may vary from 10% to 25% in comparison with the traditional option . This issue can be explained by a variety of factors, including high costs of sustainable materials, use of innovative technologies, as well as the complexity and specificity of the production process. For instance, it is critical to take into account the fact that sustainable materials such as biodegradable plastics are based on corn starch or other plant-based materials . An obvious consequence is that the production of plastics from corn starch is much more difficult and complicated than that of plastics from petroleum.

Supply Chain Limitations for Sustainable Materials

The supply chain for sustainable materials is rather intricate, and its efficiency and capacity might be limited significantly by a variety of factors. Raw material supply for sustainable materials may be restricted by the competition with food production for the agricultural land and other resources . Apart from that, it is essential to notice that the recycling industry have issues of its own, including underfunding, lack of capacity, as well as negative quality of recycled materials. Indeed, it can be observed that the global recycling rate does not exceed 9% of plastics and the quality of materials may be critically insufficient in the context of packaging . A result, additional production involving recycling of materials is required to make them usable for packaging production. In terms of logistics, it must be admitted that the opportunities and capacities of the supply chain are very limited by the requirement to transport the materials from the dispersed sources of bio-based materials or from the insufficient recycling centers.

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