Top Five Sustainability Trends to Watch

Sustainability is happening in a big way. People are more interested than ever in protecting trees and forests, building in product recyclability during the design phase, eliminating single-use factory-to-landfill packaging, making sure that even the ink is environmentally friendly and using ingenuity to recycle as much as possible. Here are five sustainability trends to keep an eye on.

New sources for paper and wood products

Replacing plastic packaging with paper and cardboard seems like a no-brainer for moving toward greater sustainability. But this still requires destroying trees – some of which may be from old growth forests and all of which might be better left in place for their carbon-capture ecoservice. Luckily, crafty humans have come up with alternative materials from which paper and packaging can be derived. Bamboo may not be a big surprise but cornstarch might raise an eyebrow or two.

Bamboo can be used in a surprisingly wide range of ways. Bamboo toilet paper and paper towels have the backing of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr., who have invested in Cloud Paper, a bamboo product maker.1 Another hot trend in Hollywood comes from Antonym Cosmetics. This company avoids plastic for its packaging and uses bamboo for some makeup containers.2

Panda Packaging, a bamboo packaging startup, is working with British coffee shops to offer drinkers a cool, reusable to-go cup. With this buy-once-and-reuse-often proposal, buyers get a stylish cup with built-in technology that links to a web-based loyalty program. Sip coffee, save trees, get reward points!3

Cornstarch might be the upstart that puts bamboo to shame. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba offers almost 10,000 cornstarch paper products. There are biodegradable zip lock paper bags, luxury kraft paper shopping bags, food takeaway clamshells, coffee cups, dental floss (!), microwavable dumpling boxes and soup bowls, corrugated mailer boxes, egg cartons and who knows what else.4

Monomaterials make recycling sense

Big brands and packaging companies are working hard to design packaging materials and labels that are as sustainable as possible. When these are designed around monomaterials, the often-complicated task of recycling becomes infinitely easier.

Quadpack, an international beauty packaging manufacturer, now offers a line of jars made with 100% polypropylene that are compatible with silk screening and hot stamping.5 Italian premium cosmetic packaging maker Eurovetrocap offers #mono, a line of packaging solutions that can be recycled via the existing waste stream, and #recycled, a line made from post-consumer and post-industrial waste.6

Medical and healthcare are exploring monomaterials, with Coveris offering recyclable packaging made from mono films paired with Tyvek®. The company also is part of an effort to create new packaging icons to make recycling easier.7 And Finnish paper manufacturer Stora Enso is making packaging foams using fiber-based monomaterials that are designed to be recyclable, biodegradable and compostable.8

Packaging with a happy ending

Manufacturers of packaging for food are increasingly getting into the sustainability groove, and compostable, biodegradable packaging is the best new thing since sliced bread.

San Francisco-based Circles Coffee has a pour-over coffee product that requires nothing more than a cup and hot water. These coffee infusers are filled with Brazilian, Honduran and Ethiopian coffees, and are made with a biodegradable filter and a compostable supporting film.9

In Australia, researchers at the RMIT University in Melbourne are finetuning a self-cleaning bioplastic that degrades on contact with soil. The researchers envision the bioplastic used for packaging fresh foods and takeout meals. They designed their material to mimic lotus leaves, especially the leaves’ propensity to repel water droplets, which keeps them surprisingly clean.10

The future in ink blots

Eco-friendly printing is using renewable energy, recycled or biodegradable products, and plant-based inks.

Ricoh has introduced a new inkjet ink for mainstream print applications that uses soybean oil, requires no water, uses no monomers, is biodegradable and offers optical density with 50% less ink. The ink is especially good for printing on corrugated brown and white boards, and is suitable for de-inking.11

The pièce de résistance may be the cannabis rolling papers from Field Trip. These papers are made of rice and printed with organic vegetable-based ink. Unlike typical blank rolling papers, the Burn Book papers are printed with text from laws that make marijuana possession a crime. These eco-friendly makers like the idea of smoking the opposition – literally.12

Recycle everything

Recycling can be complicated and confusing for the consumer and for recycling companies. Consumers often must consult charts of recyclables, searching to see if an item is recyclable and if it must be disassembled into recyclable elements. For recycling companies, time, energy and money is spent in examining the waste stream, discarding items that have been incorrectly sent for recycling, sorting the plastics from the glass and the paper. Once sorted, recyclers must wash, break down and further process the various materials.

TerraCycle has been in the hard-to-recycle business since 2001. This company collects and repurposes problematic waste and now operates in 20+ countries, recycling billions of individual pieces of waste.13

TerraCycle works with brands, manufacturers and retailers, offering programs for recycling those entities’ hard-to-recycle waste. At the manufacturing level, the company has recycling programs for production-based material like packaging scrap and PPE. TerraCycle’s team can develop logistics to make recycling these materials easier. Consumers (or groups like schools or offices) can join the programs to collect waste that will be sent to TerraCycle. The company works with brands like Dial, with which it has created a recycling stream for elements of Dial soap products like soap dispense pumps and refill packages.14

We rarely think of orchestras, bands and musicians as consumers with problematic items to recycle, but these performers have their own waste stream, including items such as guitar strings and reeds from woodwind instruments. TerraCycle has a program for recycling strings, and there are other companies that recycle metal strings into jewelry.15 Reeds – wooden and plastic – can be recycled, too.

TerraCycle also has partnered with Cytiva, a life sciences product manufacturer, to recycle the single-use plastic filters used in laboratories.16

People from all walks of life are finding innovative ways to use less, switch to eco-friendly alternatives, create and design more sustainably, and recycle everything that can be recycled. Keep an eye on these trends. They may become the new normal.


  1. “Smooth Move Awards,” January 10, 2022.
  2. Olivia O’Bryon, “6 Ways To Cut Plastic Out of Your Beauty Routine,” July 29, 2021.
  3. Francesca Brooking, “Panda Packaging Launches Loyalty Scheme For Reusable Coffee Cups,” Pebble Magazine. April 21, 2021.
  5. “Monomaterial jars for effortless recycling,” Cosmetics Business. February 8, 2022.
  6. Julia Wray, “Vetroplas offers new monomaterial and recycled pack ranges,” Cosmetics Business. December 17, 2021.
  7. “Coveris show two recyclable packaging solutions at Compamed,” Medical Plastics News. November 17, 2021.
  8. Alex Kamczyc, “Stora Enso introduces bio-based packaging foam,” Recycling Today. November 30, 2021.
  9. Sprudge Staff, “Meet Circles Coffee, The Ready To Brew New Coffee + Filter Combo,” February 18, 2022.
  10. Alexandru Micu, “Your food may soon come wrapped in self-cleaning, biodegradable plastic inspired by the lotus,” ZME Science. February 10, 2022.
  11. Jo Francis, “Ricoh turns to plant power for new ink,” Printweek. February 18, 2022.
  12. “Now you can literally smoke cannabis possession laws with ‘the burn book’ rolling papers,”
  13. TerraCycle.
  14. Dial Invests In Low-Waste Future with Hand Soap Concentrated Refills and Social Plastic Bottle,” February 16, 2022.
  15. Sophie Hirsh, “The Ultimate Guide to Recycling Guitar Strings, Woodwind Reeds, and More,” Greenmatters. February 21, 2022.
  16. Sarah Ellinwood, “Cytiva Is Turning Plastic Lab Waste Into Something New,” BioBuzz.