Meet some of the brands and products that are revolutionizing the way we think about packaging.
Alter Eco Packaging
Credit: Alter Eco

These nifty products do away with needless packaging, so consumers can shop with a clean conscience. Old is new again, as companies rethink the single-use, ultra-disposable lifestyle we've grown accustomed to. Some of the revolutionary methods they dream up for tackling waste are actually traditional, old-school techniques repurposed for modern times. Waxed cloths replace plastic wrap, for example. And have you noticed the return of the milk man in your neighborhood? He’s back in town to deliver your daily dairy and collect and reuse the empties. And the milk-man concept of leave-and-retrieve is being copied by other industries, too, delivering the new, picking up the old, and reducing packaging that would end up in landfills. Brands are choosing sustainably sourced paper to wrap up their products. All across the board, companies are evaluating ways to minimize waste. It’s encouraging stuff.

Let’s take a quick look at a few of these innovative companies.

The Eco-Friendly Indulgence

You might not think of chocolate bars when considering the next great innovation in eco-friendly packaging, but Alter Eco chocolates was founded on a mission to drive change. They take a keen interest in sustainability, from the sourcing of the beans all the way to what’s left behind. Alter Eco’s truffle wrappers are made from eucalyptus wood pulp and a small layer of aluminum, a plant-based alternative to the petroleum-based plastics that traditionally contain sweets. Even the ink on the labels are nontoxic.

“Our truffle wrappers take under 90 days to completely break down in the right conditions,” says Antoine Ambert, Senior Director of Innovation and Sustainability at Alter Eco. Currently, “the right conditions” means a certified commercial composting facility. But Alter Eco plans on bringing things to the local level — the backyard composting bin level. “Once we are backyard compostable, disposing of the wrappers will be much more accessible to people in areas that don’t have facilities,” says Ambert.

Alter Eco’s goal for the near future is to analyze the whole supply chain in order to reduce unnecessary packaging and create sustainable wrappings for everything from shipping materials to bulk packaging. 

Because compostable packaging is new to the snack aisle, consumer education is a big part of Alter Eco’s mission, too. “We are working to make this call out even more prevalent on our packaging to help guide customers on how best to dispose of them,” Ambert says.

To ensure that the products you’re picking up are sustainable and environmentally friendly, look for clear labeling that indicates the packaging is compostable or recyclable. Better still, look for third-party certifications that ensure that other organizations not associated with the brand have verified the claims. Alter Eco has been certified by FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council), an international non-profit for the responsible management of the world’s forests.

The Traditional with a Twist

Oiled cloths were an old way of keeping food fresh. But Bee’s Wrap is taking that concept into the 21st century. The idea for the waxy wraps was born from personal need. Sarah Kaeck, founder of the company, created the product after struggling to find a sustainable way to keep her homemade bread fresh.“I wanted to create something that made it easier for my family, and others, to reduce waste and cut down on single-use plastics,” Kaeck says.

Bee's wax wrap
Credit: Meredith

The wraps she devised are made from a mixture of responsibly sourced, fully biodegradable beeswax, resin, and jojoba oil painted onto fabric made from organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The pliable waxy sheets are a stylish way to store everything from sandwiches, cheeses, even opened cans of cat food, to soaps and toothbrushes for your travel toiletries kit. And at the end of the product’s life, it makes excellent kindling for a fire.

According to Kaeck, part of the sustainability piece is rewiring our relationship with products. “Bee's Wrap is reusable, but it's also not meant to last forever — and that's by design,” she says. “We're really proud to be offering a biodegradable alternative to food storage. For consumers and companies alike, a huge part of sustainability comes from understanding the lifecycle of products: how ingredients are sourced, how a product is manufactured, and ultimately, what happens when that product is no longer useful.”

Loop Groceries

Modernizing the Milk Man of yesteryear, Loop, a circular online shopping service, brings name-brand products directly to consumers and picks up and cleans empty bottles and containers.

“The effects of the waste crisis and its contribution to climate change can be seen and felt worldwide,” says Charlotte Maiden, Loop U.S. Public Relations.

As shoppers become increasingly interested in minimizing waste, manufacturers of packaged goods take notice. “Companies like Procter & Gamble are joining Loop to be socially responsible and meet the desires of consumers,” says Maiden. “Loop gives brands the opportunity to innovate packaging for well-known products and solve for waste that disposability creates.”

Loop Tote
Loop Tote

Unlike bulk or tare shops, Loop minimizes the amount of packaging required in the refilling process, so there’s no need for plastic bags at the store or for containers brought from home. Maiden notes that, “In the near future, Loop will be available in stores, so consumers can shop and return their empty containers at brick-and-mortar locations.”

With each of these examples, the winning solution seems to be a marriage of simple, time-tested ideas with innovative technologies that carry them forward into our digital age. As more companies respond to the climate crisis and consumers increasing concerns over excess waste, what other old ideas will become new again? Perhaps the best is yet to come.