The holiday shopping season is expected to bring a wave of buying and a mountain of non-recyclable packaging with it.
The growing trend of sustainability is leading to companies innovating on their packaging to lessen their environmental impact and consumers opting for more eco-friendly shipping materials.
“We're spending a tremendous amount of our energy and effort and innovation around sustainable products, sustainable design, sustainable materials,” Sal Abbate, CEO of Veritiv Corporation (VRTV), a packaging and publishing company, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “And I do think that you'll see a real strong push into those sustainable products and replacing things like Styrofoam and some plastics that are not recyclable.”
While polystyrene foam, or styrofoam, is lightweight and convenient for shipping, it can take centuries to biodegrade and can leach chemicals that are possibly toxic to wildlife and humans.
A number of states and major cities in the U.S. have implemented full or partial bans of styrofoam including Maryland, Maine, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
“There's definitely a sea change going on,” Abbate said. “Several years ago, people used to say folks won't pay for sustainable products. I think that those days are gone.”
In fact, a McKinsey survey conducted in October 2020 noted that consumers' attitudes toward sustainable packaging had begun to shift during the pandemic. For instance, 60-70% of consumers surveyed said they would pay more for sustainable packaging.
That consumer demand has translated into startups like Grove Collaborative designing household products with minimal packaging and B2B packaging providers like Veritiv investing in developing more sustainable alternatives.
Additionally, reducing the reliance on plastics used for packaging may help lower carbon emissions to fight climate change, given that the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption by 2050 if current trends continue, according to the UN.
Despite the UN projections, Abbate is optimistic about rolling out more sustainable packaging materials.
Change is "hopefully in the near future and not decades away," he said.
Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.