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Fashion industry hones in on paper-based packaging despite price increases

#Fashion industry hones in on paper-based packaging despite price increases

23 Oct 2023 — The fashion packaging industry has been switching from single-use plastic to paper-based solutions driven by consumer demand as climate issues enter more into the spotlight and are becoming no longer ignorable. 

In the Drapers’ Sustainability and the Consumer 2021 report, fashion consumers stated the packaging material their purchase arrives in matters, with 73% saying that using paper or cardboard packaging is crucial to them when considering a brand’s level of environmental sustainability. 

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the global fashion industry is valued at over US$2.5 trillion. The UNECE asserts that renewable and responsibly sourced forest fibers are part of the solution for a sustainable fashion industry.

The shift from single-use plastic packaging to wood-based alternatives in the fashion packaging industry is economically feasible, with an estimated market growth potential of US$5 billion.

“One of the primary issues with fashion packaging today is that too much waste [is generated] and non-essential plastic is used. Many companies still rely on non-sustainable materials that contribute to pollution and waste,” Sonia Pelachova, sales manager at Seaman Paper Europe, tells Packaging Insights.

“The issue can, at times, seem overwhelming, but we believe small changes can make a big impact in the long term.”

Paper packaging solutions
Seaman Paper offers environmentally responsible packaging solutions for the fashion industry. Pelachova says it requires a balance between functionality and cost.

Vela paper bags for garments.Seaman Paper replaces plastic polybags with paper.“Our products are all paper-based, designed with recyclability and circularity in mind. Designing fashion packaging with paper alternatives poses challenges,” says Pelachova.

Some common paper packaging challenges include durability — especially for e-commerce — and lower personalization capacity.

The UNECE reports that paper and paperboard packaging is highly efficient in terms of its carbon balance — only emitting 3-5% of the carbon compared to the average product it holds.

A study by the Graz University of Technology, Germany, concluded that paper and cardboard have the potential to be recycled 25 times and possibly more.

Seaman Paper offers Vela bags, a ready-made, paper-based alternative to single-use polybags.

“We are pioneers when it comes to replacing plastic polybags with paper in the fashion industry. Due to our experience in this area, we have a wide range of unique capabilities to offer our clients. Our global footprint ensures accessibility and our commitment to environmental responsibility distinguishes us in the market.”

Seaman Paper’s other fashion packaging solutions include paper garment covers for hanging clothes, a paper-based pallet wrapping solution and a customizable FanFold for void fill in e-commerce shipments.

“These solutions are modern, unique and often the first paper replacements for traditional single-use plastic products. We can provide many of these products globally, thanks to our production facilities across Asia, Europe and the US.”

Energy and economic crises
Pelachova explains that some fashion companies have hesitated to adopt more environmentally friendly packaging due to recent disruptions such as supply chain issues, lockdowns, economic downturns and rising costs.

“These factors have delayed the shift to [environmentally] sustainable and often more expensive alternative solutions. However, the transition toward responsible packaging is inevitable and we are proud to partner with like-minded companies leading the way.”

According to a Rabobank report, Europe has gone from one of the lowest cost paper producing regions to the highest-cost region on Earth. The authors say to remain competitive on the world stage, Europe’s paper producers must act together to decarbonize their energy supplies and reduce prices by transitioning to new technologies.Zara shoes in a shoe box surrounded by paper.Seaman Paper creates paper packaging solutions for clothing.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, price increases have risen to 210% between 2020-2022. In comparison, the North American and Asian markets saw increases of 70% and 40%, respectively — putting Europe at a significant disadvantage.

Solving fashion packaging waste
To move the fashion packaging industry toward ecological practices, Pelachova suggests “reducing the use of problematic plastic and embracing alternative materials that can positively impact the planet.”

“Although there may be additional costs initially, in the long run, companies that develop more [environmentally] sustainable packaging are likely to benefit from increased turnover as environmental awareness continues to grow among consumers.”

Industry association European Bioplastics recently challenged a “first-of-its-kind” study, which found that synthetic textiles, including “compostable” plastics like PLA, do not degrade after more than a year in the ocean.

However, the bioplastics players dismissed the findings as irrelevant, pointing out that the fashion industry does not use PLA because it is “compostable” but because it is bio-based and avoids fossil-based resources.

Earlier this year, Packaging Insights spoke with Stella Lee, artist and material designer, who turns leftover packaging from fashion merchandise into whimsical shoe designs.

Even if the common conception is that paper packaging is more environmentally friendly than its plastic counterpart, it still causes waste if not adequately recycled.

By Sabine Waldeck

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