Without the benefits of modern packaging, life would be very different indeed. Packaging has changed the world. Now sustainable packaging is about to change it again – and Woolcool’s MD Josie Morris explains how.
Packaging has come a long way. At the start of the consumer age, fresh produce such as food didn’t last long before it became inedible and useless. Packaging evolved to help protect it from the elements, prolong its shelf life and make it safer.
Delivering products over long distances, simply wrapped in brown paper and string, was a logistical lottery that meant items often arrived damaged. Today’s packaging makes our convenient delivery-obsessed 21st Century lifestyle possible. But as with anything in excess, it begins to take its toll.
Medicines and health equipment benefit from sterile and secure packaging solutions developed over decades. In the pharma sector, packaging literally saves lives.
Modern packaging not only created branding, design and marketing as we know it, it provided somewhere for manufacturers and producers to put vital information for consumers, from ingredients and allergens to informing buying habits and driving competition.
So modern packaging, with its iconic brands and disposable ethos, provides the protective layers that have shaped our modern world. In the 20th century, it delivered solutions to problems created by an explosion in consumer culture.
Now, in the 21st Century, there is a growing acceptance that packaging itself must change, in order to solve a new set of problems.
Where packaging was once expected to sustain its contents, now packaging itself needs to be sustainable. The challenge is in finding the balance between performance, the packaging being fit for use and its environmental impact.
But what does sustainable actually mean? The ‘green’ agenda is constantly changing, with different issues and vague terms like ‘Green’ and ‘Eco-Friendly’ being liberally applied to all kinds of products and schemes. Unfortunately, terms like ‘Green’ and ‘Eco’ have been watered down by over-use, as products bid to benefit from the consumer engagement and marketing opportunities they bring – even if they can only be very loosely linked to the product.
Definition is in the eye of the beholder. Some define sustainability as protecting our natural resources, or maintaining an ecological balance. Concerns over carbon footprints, recycling, landfill and clean energy add to the conversation.
From a packaging point of view there are many terms that claim to deliver green credentials – eco packaging, biodegradable packaging, eco friendly packaging, recyclable packaging.
It’s hard to see past all these terms to identify the real challenge at hand. Genuine sustainable solutions are difficult to pick out, especially as clever marketing can muddy the waters.
Woolcool has more than a decade of pioneering research and development, aimed at tackling the real and urgent global eco packaging issue faced by society – the need to develop packaging that is both environmentally and socially responsible while offering high performance and being economically effective.
In short, it must provide all the benefits developed in the consumer explosion of the 20th century, while meeting the social and ethical standards expected in the 21st.
But while we utilise the very latest technology to develop and test our products, the core of our success in creating truly sustainable eco packaging lies in nature.
The message is simple: nature knows best.
In order to create a superior eco friendly packaging solution, we use a natural material – wool.
Designed, developed and tested by millions of years of evolution, wool is a natural smart fibre that provides a superior and cost-effective alternative to the status quo of insulated packaging solutions such as polystyrene and polyethylene foam, creating truly eco friendly packaging. We apply the very highest standards of high-tech research and development to maximise the incredible properties of wool.
So why is it such an impressive green material?
As a by-product of sheep rearing, wool is abundant. As very few breeds of sheep will naturally moult, they need to be sheared to ensure a healthy and happy sheep. As a natural material, wool is also totally compostable. It can be used to create fully bio degradable packaging, releasing valuable nitrates back into the soil. Given that polystyrene can take centuries to decompose in landfills, compostable wool is clearly superior in green terms. Its compostable credentials are so good that there are even companies selling Wool-based compost.
Wool is also a far more eco friendly material when considering the planet’s oceans. Its organic fibres are broken down by seawater much faster than the manmade plastics and micro fibres that are currently clogging the seas and causing global concern.
Most importantly, after millions of years of evolution, wool is one of nature’s greatest insulators. It allows us to create efficient sustainable packaging that is smaller and less costly to manufacture. In turn, this means wool-based packaging takes up less space and weighs less than other solutions, cutting down on transport and logistics costs, reducing the carbon footprint created by delivery.
We have the scientific data, after 10 years of research and development, to show that this natural fibre is a superior insulative component for packaging compared to any manmade option.
Crucially, we have proven that protecting the environment means higher cost and rising prices for the consumer. One of the great misconceptions of the ‘green’ era is that sustainable goods – including eco friendly packaging – is by its nature more expensive to create. Another misconception is that it is not commercially available in the kind of volumes to make a real difference or be feasible for companies to switch to.
By turning to natural, abundant materials, the packaging sector can do away with this myth.
And importantly, we believe that by turning to natural materials, true eco packaging will help protect nature by replacing the single-use manmade matter that so often ends up in landfill or clogs the oceans.
It’s about focusing on a longer-term strategy for the future.
To us, sustainability is about creating eco friendly packaging that delivers tangible results – not only to our clients and consumers, but to society as whole. As a business we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in a way that is collaborative and sustainable within our team, working with our customers and suppliers and also the wider community.
Alongside the scientific data, we have the awards that recognise our pioneering outlook. Woolcool’s sustainable packaging has won numerous ‘green’ accolades.
In 2009, Woolcool were finalists in the prestigious Green Awards, and then won Best Innovation at the Observer Food Monthly Awards.
2010 brought more recognition, as the impact of Woolcool’s pioneering products, from insulated boxes to cool packaging, was recognised in the industry.
The company was recognised by the Observer’s Ethical Awards, and was also named Best Eco-Friendly Product at the Green Business Awards. Then, at the UK Packaging Awards, Woolcool won Sustainable Pack of the Year.
The crowning glory of our dedication to ground-breaking research and development came in 2018, when Woolcool was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category.
So, Woolcool’s eco packaging products tick the important boxes required for truly impeccable ‘green’ credentials.
But continual improvement is at our core, and we are always pushing for the next eureka moment that will deliver more security and efficiency for our customers, while protecting the environment.
That means reaching for the next stage in sustainability – and striving to create a truly circular economy.
Because the real secret to sustainable packaging is not just recycling. It is re-use.
Wool is a remarkably re-usable material – its strong natural fibres make it ideal for multiple uses, in the home and in industry.
Woolcool is now working on pioneering programmes that will enable its wool insulation to be reused again and again in eco packaging and beyond.
We are working on schemes that will allow eco-minded clients to return our packaging to us, so we can re-use it. We advise customers on handy ways to use our wool liners around the home, and explain how best to compost them in the garden.
Of course, none of this impacts on the efficiency of our products, which remain superior to conventional packaging that relies on man-made insulating material.
Our long-term approach and pragmatic view ensures that we avoid knee-jerk reactions that are often associated with the eco movement. After ten years of painstaking research and development, we want to offer a voice of reason amid the green conversation, where conclusions are not always clear-cut and rarely black and white.
We know, for instance, that using some plastic is not always avoidable and can often be a more sensible and safe choice in packaging, particularly when considering food contact.
While we are passionate about developing methods of re-use, we know that this is simply not applicable to all sectors or products – such as in pharmaceuticals, where the demands of sterility make single-use a necessity.
This practical and pragmatic approach is the key to our success in developing high-performance, efficient and cost-effective packaging with impeccable sustainable credentials.
With all the negative press surround packaging, let’s not forget the very important part it plays in many sectors. Packaging did and still does play a major part changing our world for the better. Driven by rapid market changes, it has provided safer produce and delivered it better, making the world a smaller, more accessible place.
Now the desires of consumers are changing – while they still want effective and beneficial packaging to be able to conveniently and safely receive goods, they now want the packaging to be ethical.
The key is not in eliminating all packaging ever used. We must not forget the important role packaging has played in areas such as reducing food waste, the opening up of accessible to products in hard-to-reach terrains, the information it can provide or even in delivering life-saving treatments in the Pharmaceutical sectors.
It is about the holistic approach, using the right materials within a true circular economy. Where packaging was once expected to sustain its contents, now packaging itself needs to be sustainable. Where it was once expected to protect only its contents, we now want eco packaging to help protect the earth too.
By turning to natural materials, Woolcool is helping to shape a better way of packaging the future.