Innovations in sustainable packaging for the apparel industry

With online shopping booming, the fashion industry has enjoyed a surge in ecommerce orders. But while the fashion e-commerce industry is expected to rise from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion this year, according to Shopify research[1], there is a worrying downside. Packaging waste.

Retailers and brands get this. They are working hard to find more sustainable ways to protect garments in the supply chain, and ship products to customers, viewing this as a major part of their responsibility for the environment.

It’s also understood that operating more sustainably will future proof brand reputation and hopefully inspire others to choose the same route. A Chartered Institute of Marketing report[2] (December 2021) found that 82% of UK adults believe companies use too much packaging when delivering online orders, or selling in-store products, with 78% wanting to see more done by large companies to mitigate packaging waste. Clearly, consumers are now expecting to see a change for the better.

Big brands prioritise ESG commitments

Countless high profile brands are increasingly making efforts to incorporate greener solutions for their products and packaging. This includes committing to sourcing packaging that is made of 100% sustainable and ethically sourced materials in the next few years.

Much-loved brands know they must track and report this kind of progress, if their sustainability strategies are to be credible in the eyes of concerned consumers who absorb media coverage of the effects of climate change on a daily basis.

Smaller brands can use sustainable packaging materials too

With the constant evolution of technology, an increasing number of materials are becoming available for eco-friendly garment and footwear shipping, with options filtering down to smaller retailers. Although greener packaging and shipping options may result in an increase in product pricing, studies have shown people are willing to pay more for a product that is proven sustainable in all areas. The additional costs can be offset with the right material choices which can add a premium aesthetic elevating both brand value and brand perception.

Polybags are used extensively across the fashion industry with half a billion being produced every year,[3] however, this convenience comes with a hidden cost. It uses petroleum, a finite resource and only 1% of plastic film is actually recycled, it simply ends up in landfill, incinerated or within the ecosystem. There’s approximately 100 billion garments produced every year that enables a staggering amount of plastic polybags the chance to enter the environment.

So, what are the options? Thankfully greener packaging and materials, such as FSC-certified paper and cardboard, recycled content polybags, and plastic-free hangers, are now widely available for use in the fashion industry. Paper packaging is easily recycled and when focusing on the end of life and waste, paper is by far the best option at the moment as it is widely curbside recyclable.

There are other ‘green’ bio film alternatives on the market that can sound exciting but not when we are concentrating on the baseline of reducing waste. Clothing films tend to get discarded with general waste and don’t end up in the correct end of life conditions to actually compost or biodegrade. Some can create microplastics and contaminate the waste stream meaning they pollute otherwise recyclable material. Biodegradable and compostable films are best used for the food industry where they are most likely to end up in the right waste streams.

However, it is possible to make polybags from recycled material, and each ton of recycled plastic bags saves the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil. One example of this is our eco-friendly Re-Think Packaging[4] range, which includes a 100% recycled content PE poly bags and E-commerce Mailer bags. These GRS-certified products are intended to be an alternative to single-use plastics, introduce reusable and recyclable materials, and limit the volume of packaging materials being used across the supply chain.

Undoubtedly the fashion industry as a whole can do better to reduce packaging waste, by firstly minimising its packaging use and then focusing on solutions that are curbside recyclable.

Trust comes with transparency

What’s next? As social media continues to give eco-activism a global mouthpiece, we’ll see a growing demand for clarity about where products and packaging have come from, and how materials can be recycled and reused. Demand for transparency is driving innovation so we can expect rapid advances in recycled and recyclable materials as the necessary infrastructure for circularity comes on stream. Increasingly, informative digitalized labels and carefully designed hang tags will be required to communicate the green story of the product and the brand.

In addition, technology is helping improve sustainability and reduce carbon footprint. Implementing digital triggers to packaging from the point of manufacture is instrumental in ‘closing the loop’ and reducing waste and carbon footprint. Powering protective packaging with smart technology enables raw material certification, waste transparency, advice on recycling, and more. The good news is that sustainable solutions are being developed by industry suppliers like us as fast as possible today. Retailers can now play an important role in ‘closing the loop’ by adopting alternative


[1] https://www.shopify.ca/enterprise/ecommerce-fashion-industry

[2] https://www.packagingnews.co.uk/news/markets/online-retail/survey-finds-8-10-consumers-want-sustainable-packaging-21-12-2021

[3] https://www.commonobjective.co/article/fashion-s-polybag-addiction-can-it-be-overcome

[4] https://rbis.averydennison.com/en/home/our-services/ad-trend-alert/Re-Think_Packaging.html

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