Long seen as the doyenne of green packaging, glass is not only recyclable, but it shows its contents through a shimmering fragile layer that has long appealed to customers.
However, glass is now being scrutinized in terms of carbon emissions as well as the way it is sourced. Created by melting sand, the production of glass means that harvesting sand from oceans and riverbeds is changing those ecosystems and in some cases can lead to flooding and erosion. Transportation is another problem. Being heavier and more fragile than plastics, it can cost more to transport and increase costs relating to breakage. Sadly too, though glass is reusable, in the US only around 33% of glass is recycled and it takes a great deal of energy to melt the original materials.
For decades, beauty and luxury brands have been presented in shining vessels of glass. Can these sectors give that up for more sustainable and recycled materials? Is the window to the product essential, or can it be veiled and create a sense of mystery behind something more opaque?
Already brands like Johnnie Walker and L’Oréal are exploring paper bottles. The packaging has to be designed in a way that works with the existing brand while also making clear why it is a better alternative for customers. Also, in the end, for high-end products they must be beautiful. Many glass objects end up being on show in people’s homes; they are objects of desire, and designing that same desire in paper means a step beyond pointing to sustainable roots—it has to also appeal to the conspicuous consumer who prefers a thing of beauty.
Using paper packaging may also bring the prices down for certain products. This is a double-edged sword. Though it may appeal to a much wider audience, it loses the price-related exclusivity associated with premium products.
Overall, can we afford not to choose packaging that reduces carbon emissions? Campaigns with beautifully designed products appreciated by celebrities and supported by world organizations concerned about the planet send a strong message—this is the game we play in marketing. If we can persuade brands that this change will appeal to a younger and more eco-conscious and purpose-aware public, then it’s a step in the right direction to update paper packaging from a pulp fiction to a desirable reality.
Photo: via Calersberg