A guide to sustainable packaging trends for 2022

In an era when brands are keen to court eco-conscious consumers, it’s not hard to find products that promise green and environmentally-friendly materials and fair and ethical practices.

Unfortunately, there’s often a gap between the promises that companies make to their consumers, and the manufacturing processes they utilize behind closed doors – in other words, not all products and services are as sustainable as they seem.

The good news is, governments around the world are beginning to close the loopholes that allow for this “greenwashing”. In the UK, the government is implementing Climate-related Financial Disclosures from April, which will hold businesses more accountable when it comes to sustainability. In the US, lawmakers in California have introduced ground-breaking legislation about product labeling, which will prevent manufacturers from making deceptive or misleading claims about the recyclability of their products.

In other words, 2022 is going to be a massive year for sustainability across all sectors.

For packaging manufacturers, this means big changes – and big opportunities – are on the horizon. If you’re keen to get ahead of the curve, take a look at the packaging solutions that we think we will be huge in the coming year.

Reusable packaging

The concept of a reusable pack is not a new one, but in 2022 we’ll start seeing it everywhere.

In the in-store environment, businesses can offer consumers the opportunity to buy reusable glass, aluminum or plastic containers which can be filled with the product of their choice and topped up whenever needed. Ecommerce brands, meanwhile, should focus on providing refills in reduced packaging – an area where flexible packaging (see section below) can really come into its own – and offering free returns so that empty packaging can be sent back.

This approach is already proving successful for cosmetics brands like MAC, La Mer, Kiehl’s, UpCircle and The Body Shop, who are offering a range of refillable products in bottles, tubs, lipsticks and palettes. In 2022, it will be interesting to see how the same approach is used by brands within other sectors.

Better plastics & plastics recycling

It’s a misconception that all plastic packaging is equally damaging to the environment and should be banned from use. In fact, there are many contexts where a plastic container may be the more sustainable choice when compared to a non-plastic container, once you factor in manufacturing costs, recyclability and functional aspects like food safety and shelf-life.

In other words, we don’t expect 2022 to be the year that we see an end to plastics. Instead, we’ll see manufacturers using far fewer virgin plastics and more recycled plastics, and in general moving away from plastic varieties that are associated with the most pollution and waste.

The Good Plastics Company is already making waves with its recycled and recyclable plastic sheets, while engineering pioneers around the world are finding innovative ways to breathe new life into old plastics – in Nzambi Matee’s case by creating incredibly durable building materials.

For consumers looking to reduce their use of plastics, top tips include:

  • Buying plastics that are wholly or partially manufactured from recycled content
  • Avoiding dark colored plastics, which are generally harder to recycle
  • Avoiding plastic wraps, bags and films wherever possible

Plastic alternatives

In addition to finding better ways to use and recycle plastics, 2022 will also be a year in which plastic alternatives surge in popularity – and, perhaps, even become the norm.

Sustainable packaging materials that can be used in place of plastic include those which are biodegradable, compostable and even dissolvable – read about starch-based packing peanuts if you don’t believe us! Another good route is to use materials that are easier to recycle and have a longer lifespan than recyclable plastics. Of course in both cases, manufacturers have a responsibility to look at the overall life-cycle of the material to determine which is best suited to the job.

For rigid bottles, tubs and containers, tin and aluminum are two excellent alternatives to traditional plastics, as they are durable, food-safe and can be easily recycled many times over without loss of quality. Lightweight, shaped and flexible packaging, meanwhile, can be recreated with bioplastics, which are made using renewable biomass sources like vegetable oils and corn starch.

At GPA, one of our favorite plastic alternatives is molded pulp. This is a material made from recycled paper or natural fibers blended with water and pressed into molds. The benefits of molded pulp are that it’s fully compostable and biodegradable, uses renewable “tree-free” sources, and achieves a smooth, lightweight and easily customizable finish.

High-recycled content packaging

In the next few years, we’re going to see governments around the world taking action to encourage the use of recycled materials. In the UK from April 2022, plastic packaging imported to or produced in the UK will be subject to a new tax based on its content of recycled material – anything less than 30% means the manufacturer will have to pay up.

We’ll also continue to see a big push towards recycled paper products. These have applications across primary, secondary and tertiary packaging – from the shower-friendly paper bottles pioneered by L’Oréal to recycled corrugated boxes and paper void fill.

Flexible packaging

Flexible packaging is packaging that eschews the rigid structure of boxes, bottles and tubs in favor of bag and pouch formats. The sustainability benefits of flexible packaging are less to do with the materials used – which include paper, aluminum and plastic – and more to do with 1) shelf-life, and 2) material, warehousing and transit costs.

A piece of flexible packaging like a resealable pouch is ideal for food products, as it allows for easy and food-safe storage. Moreover, it’s lightweight, uses less plastic and is cheaper to produce than rigid packaging, and takes up very little space in storage and during transit. This results in reduced transportation costs, a smaller carbon footprint and less pollution overall.

An area where we can expect to see flexible packaging really shine is where it overlaps with reusable packaging. Many cosmetics companies are already utilizing flexible pouches to enable the refill of rigid bottles and tubs.


Minimalism” may have had its heyday as an interior design concept in the 1990s and early 2000s, but right now it’s starting to come into its own within packaging.

This “less is more” approach will see packaging stripped back to its essentials – not simply because a functional aesthetic is in vogue, but because the modern, eco-conscious consumer is drawn to packaging that doesn’t reek of needless waste. In other words? It’s OK to keep things simple!

A particularly austere and eco-friendly approach is offered by the mono-material pack i.e. one that is made almost entirely from one material. Over at GPA Cannabis, our team has developed a mono-material, paperboard sliding tray with a paper rather than plastic insert, allowing the entire pack to be disposed of in the paper recycling bin once finished. We manufactured something similar for RAIN’s Botanical Mist Pen, using soy inks to ensure enhanced sustainability.

Zero-waste packaging

At the most extreme end of the sustainable packaging spectrum is no packaging at all – but, in practice, what does this really look like?

Boldly eco-conscious brands like Lush have made huge steps forward with packaging-free beauty products. Today, their range includes classic staples like solid soap and bath bombs, as well as innovations like solid shampoo and massage bars – but we can expect them to expand the range further in 2022 to eliminate packaging wherever possible.

A similar approach has been embraced by certain grocery chains, including The Clean Kilo (Birmingham, UK) and Precycle (Brooklyn, US). With this style of shopping, fresh and dried produce is stored “loose” and packaging-free, and can be taken away in desired quantities by the shopper using a reusable container brought from home, or purchased in-store.

While we applaud any business tactic that successfully reduces waste, there’s no denying that this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it simply won’t work for a lot of businesses. In particular, it’s a system that can only function within the physical retail environment, which means this style of shopping excludes those people unable to shop in person.

Beyond that, the plastic wraps and containers used on products like fresh food are often there for a reason – to prolong freshness, offer a longer shelf-life and reduce food wastage. In short, cutting out all packaging isn’t always the best way to do your bit for the environment, which is why brands need to approach this topic with care and consideration.

Partner with GPA Global to achieve your sustainability goals

If you’re a brand looking to get ahead of the curve with sustainability, we can help. We were founded on sustainable principles and have years of experience working with renewable and recyclable materials.

To learn more about how we apply our sustainable approach to crafting exceptional packaging, check out our portfolio. Otherwise, get in touch with our team and we’ll talk you through the GPA ethos – you’ll find our contact details here.


2 February 2022
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