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In the Aisle: Ousting plastic, the packaging pariah

The natural products industry's eternal dilemma: How to package a product without using plastic. Learn more about the brands making an effort on this front.

Nancy Coulter-Parker

September 16, 2023

3 Min Read
Plastic particles weighing approximately 2 million tons were estimated to be in the world’s oceans in 2019, the 5 Gyres Institute reports.

One of the biggest conundrums facing the natural products industry is finding sustainable packaging that still protects the goods inside. Today, many brands use organic or regeneratively grown ingredients to make clean-label products—only to wrap them in plastic. Even though glass and stainless steel can offer better solutions, plastic’s share of packaging is expected to hit 72% by 2024.

The problem with plastic is multifold. First, there is a growing realization that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, from which 99% of plastics are made. Both our fossil fuel usage and our poor track record of disposing of plastics properly are hugely detrimental to the environment. The 5 Gyres Institute reports that, as of 2019, there were more than 170 trillion plastic particles, weighing approximately 2 million tons, afloat in the world’s oceans.

Also problematic, the contaminants in plastics—polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene and bisphenol A (BPA)—can release chemicals into the products we eat and put on our bodies, becoming toxic to our health.

And until now, the onus has been on consumers to make sure packaging is recycled or composted appropriately. However, reliable national and global infrastructures for recycling and composting don’t truly exist, and total plastic recycling in the U.S. has dropped below 6%, according to Greenpeace.

Related:Unboxed: 21 plastic-free personal care products

Aiming to fix these problems, new legislation is shifting plastic reduction and disposal responsibilities to brands. California’s recently implemented Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act requires 100% of packaging in the state to be recyclable or compostable by 2032. The act also calls for a 25% reduction in plastic packaging and mandates that 65% of all single-use plastic packaging be recycled. Hopefully, other states will follow California’s example.

Brands and retailers are also stepping up, which should be very evident at Expo East this year. For example, Dr. Bronner’s is making multiple efforts to address the plastic problem, including partnering with Wonderfil to offer refill stations for its products. Cleaning products company Cleanery also offers a reuse option, while Straus Family Creamery sells its organic milk in reusable glass bottles as it works on solutions for all of its products. Organic, fair-trade chocolate brand Alter Eco and organic kelp snacks brand12 Tides have both opted for compostable packaging.

Expect the show floor to be flooded with companies actively addressing the plastic problem, through more sustainable packaging and strong commitments to working toward solutions. By supporting these brands, retailers can further their impacts while giving their shoppers eco-forward choices.

Related:In the Aisle: Innovative vegan foods include cheese, butter, seafood

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap Refill Carton

Dr. Bronner’s was early to advance the sustainable packaging envelope by packing all of its products in 100% PRC plastic bottles. But the company was not satisfied, so it innovated a non-plastic carton to hold the castile soaps that it dispenses from retailers’ bulk stations. So now, people can walk away from a store with a sustainable container comprised largely of Forest Stewardship Council–approved paper, along with much less polyethylene, a little aluminum and a plastic cap.

HiBAR Sensitive Formula Natural Deodorant

Baking soda is a main ingredient in many natural deodorants, but plenty of consumers’ skin is sensitive to that component. HiBAR’s newest innovation offers a baking soda–free, fragrance-free and aluminum-free deodorant in a compostable paper applicator with a similar shape as traditional deodorant sticks. No plastic waste here! This product is sure to meet consumer demand for ultraclean formulas when it launches in the fall.

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Coulter-Parker

New Hope Network


As New Hope Natural Media's former Director of Content, Education and Research, Nancy is the founder of NCP Content + Consulting. In this role, she continues to develop and implement content and research strategies related to all aspects of the natural products industry for media outlets, retail chains, associations and brands. 


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