Packaging sustainability is a topic that affects businesses across all sectors and as eCommerce continues to boom the fashion industry has a huge role to play in reducing the impact of packaging waste. 

All clothing and textile companies want to minimise their environmental impact throughout the supply chain. Analysts from Packaging Gateway’s parent company GlobalData say that consumers are more loyal to brands that take environmental issues seriously and 78% of global consumers actively look for ’sustainable / environmentally-friendly’ features when making a purchase. 

The importance of sustainability

GlobalData analyst Rory Gopsill, explained: “Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, investors, and regulators. All three groups can inflict material damage on companies that fail to operate sustainably. Consumers can boycott brands and companies, investors can stop investing in them, and regulators can fine those that fail to abide by environmental regulations.”

“As climate change becomes an increasingly urgent issue to tackle, consumers, investors, and regulators will grow increasingly hostile to any company, fashion or otherwise, that does not operate in a sufficiently sustainable way. The packaging used by fashion companies can have a big impact on their overall environmental footprint,” continued Gopsill. 

“Therefore, how effectively a fashion company can integrate sustainable packaging into its business operations will help determine whether consumers, investors, and regulators reward or punish said company in the future.” 

The top apparel companies in 2021 based on data compiled by GlobalData Credits: Ryan Ellington

According to The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) packaging accounts for 40% of plastic waste and only 9% of that is recycled. UNECE even suggests moving from single-use plastic packaging to wood-based alternatives is economically feasible and environmentally friendly as the materials have a highly efficient carbon balance.

Industry experts such as the commercial director for Ineos Olefins & Polymers Europe, Liz Rettweger believe plastics can have a role to play in a sustainable society with environmentally friendly options such as recycled or compostable plastics. 

European fashion retailer C&A recently announced a new partnership with circular bio-economy start-up traceless materials to replace its single-use in-store hooks with a biodegradable plastic alternative which could save up to 95% of the carbon emissions generated by plastic disposal.

Businesses within the fashion industry are keen to play their part in building a global circular economy but how are companies tackling packaging sustainability?

Keeping fashion sustainability in mind

Nike Inc. 

The world’s biggest apparel company, Nike Incorporated (NIKE Inc.), places a big value on sustainability with its ‘Move to zero’ initiative and that value extends to its packaging. In 2022 Nike designed the ‘Nike One Box’, a packaging concept that ships shoes in a shoebox without the need for an outer box. The innovative, logo-free design removes the need for extra packaging and is said to cut packaging waste by 51% for single online orders compared to traditional packaging. 

In the FY21 Nike Inc impact report, the company stated it had managed to cut waste reduction by 4% from 2020, which means it is edging closer to its target of 10% by 2025. The same report also noted an increase in the amount of packaging waste being recycled.

Sustainability targets:

  • By 2025 Nike wants to have a 10% waste reduction per unit in manufacturing, distribution, headquarters and packaging through improved design and operational efficiency.

Adidas

In 2020 Germany-based sports brand, Adidas, committed to using only recycled polyester in all of its products and in every application from 2024.

adidas announced plans to manufacture up to 20 million pairs of shoes using plastic waste and according to environmental agency The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), nearly two-thirds of global plastic waste comes from plastics with lifetimes under five years, with 40% coming from packaging. A spokesperson from Adidas told Packaging Gateway the company has replaced the plastic strings used for hang tags with jute ribbons. It has also ensured its shoe boxes are made from 95% recycled content and in 2016 Adidas eliminated plastic bags from its stores. The Adidas spokesperson also told Packaging Gateway that since 2021 it has ensured its transport packaging for clothing was made from recycled content.

Sustainability targets:

  • By 2025 Adidas wants to have a 95% diversion rate of its own waste and by 2030 it plans to have a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Inditex

Inditex has a long-running commitment to environmental change and joined the UN Global Compact in 2001. The company stated it has continuously reviewed its stores and distribution chain to look at ways of reducing its impact on the planet. The company has made a commitment to phase out single-use plastics by 2023 and promote the use of reusable bags. In addition to collecting in-store hangers and tags to reuse or transform them into other items.

The company is on course to have 100% of its stores powered by renewable energy and is developing a range of emission-cutting projects across its distribution and logistics operations. This includes its association with the sustainable business initiative Clean Cargo Working Group and with the Arctic Corporate Shipping Pledge, an ocean conservancy initiative.

Sustainability targets:

  • By 2023 Inditex will have completely eliminated single-use plastic for customers.
  • By 2023 the collection of all packaging materials for recycling or reuse will go into the supply chain 

H & M

Packaging plays a pivotal role in getting products to consumers safely and Swedish fashion retailer, H&M, says packaging should not cause more damage than it prevents. The company states it is working to change the way it packages its products and how they are able to fit within a circular economy.

In December 2020 H&M rolled out a multi-brand packaging format to prevent packaging waste from becoming consumer waste. The company replaced the outer plastic packaging with a reusable and recyclable paper alternative. 

A spokesperson for H&M told packaging Gateway: “Our circular packaging strategy guides us in our efforts to reduce the impact of our packaging as part of our focus on reducing resource use. Packaging plays a key role in our work towards a more circular business model, taking a holistic circular approach to packaging with all the stages of the value chain into account. 

“We focus on, for example, having all our packaging designed to be reusable or recyclable by 2025. In addition to that, all our packaging should be made from either recycled or other sustainably sourced material by 2030, with a preference for post-consumer recycled materials.

“Generally speaking, finding a way to transition from plastic to post-consumer recycled paper packaging without compromising on protecting our products can be a challenge. For example, equivalent protection from paper packaging might require increased volume and weight compared to plastic. We are testing ways to increase the durability of post-consumer recycled paper as one potential solution to this issue. In parallel to that work, we also see great progress in our new packaging solutions for online shopping, swapping from plastics to FSC-certified paper.

Sustainability targets:

  • By 2025 H&M will reduce the packaging across its value chain by 25% and have all its packaging designed to be reusable or recyclable.
  • By 2030 all H&M packaging will be made from either recycled or other sustainably sourced materials, with a preference for post-consumer recycled materials. 
  • By 2025 H&M aims to reduce emissions by 56%. 

C&A

Fashion retailer C&A believes every product it produces has a low environmental impact, from its design and production to its shipping, sale and disposal. 

In 2022 Chinese non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), recognised C&A as a leader in environmental supply chain management, ranking the company sixth out of over 120 apparel and textile brands.

2021 saw C&A continue to reduce its operational environmental impacts and develop a Retail Sustainability Programme that covers energy, waste and plastics in its retail stores and distribution centres. The company says after a successful test phase in 2021, it is in the process of transitioning away from virgin plastic polybags used in its e-commerce shipments to options made of 85% post-consumer materials. 

In a move to reduce its reliance on plastic, C&A joined the Circular Polybag Pilot initiated by Fashion For Good, an innovative fashion industry project focused on scalable solutions to plastics. The polybag being evaluated in this pilot uses 100% recycled Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE).

“The biggest challenge lies above all in the procurement of high-quality material, for example for our polybag programme. High-quality material is of course essential to close the loop in the long term. Our goal is to collect plastic from our stores and have it recycled by our suppliers. Removing the adhesive is the biggest hurdle. Fortunately, we are currently making remarkable progress and we are sure that we will soon be able to offer this to our customers,” said a spokesperson from C&A.

Sustainability targets:

  • By 2030, C&A plans to reduce GHG emissions by 30% in its direct operations, including its stores, distribution centres and offices.