Think about the products in your home and how you use them. What do you do when those items have no other purpose? Or when you have consumed them? A huge challenge in the sustainability space centers around what happens to a product and its package when it reaches the end of its life cycle.
But what if a product’s life cycle didn’t end? We often think about reuse in terms of clothing, books, furniture, etc. These are items we perceive as having extended usage occasions with opportunity for second, third, even fourth lives. Consumables don’t have the same luxury. The life cycle effectively ends after consuming the food or beverage and discarding the package. In a circular economy, it doesn’t have to.
Repurposing Extends the Life Cycle
Circularity suggests that there could be a different path forward. Products and packages designed with circularity in mind take into consideration their ends-of-life and ask the question, “and then what?”
Food waste provides a huge opportunity for innovation in consumer packaged goods. Recently, Spare Food Co. announced the launch of Spare Tonic, a beverage utilizing the whey waste from yogurt manufacturing. Each year, this process discards more than one billion pounds of whey which, if not neutralized, is toxic to the environment. Spare Food Co. takes this waste, processes it, and produces a simple beverage that contains 85-90% whey, natural flavors/sweeteners, and carbonation. As companies consider what their consumer wants, needs, and values, the answer may not lie in something new but rather repurposing something they already have and extending its components’ life cycle.
Put the “Cycle” Back into Recycle
In the CPG space, and specifically food products, the focus is often on packaging and recycling. Packaging waste presents its own challenges, many of which rely on the consumer to solve. The user consumes the products and discards the packaging in the trash or recycling bin. Often, contamination and mixed materials often divert those packages intended for recycling to landfills—the consumer did not adequately disassemble the package (if necessary) or rinse its components.
Single-serve coffee pods significantly contribute to waste. While many of these pods are technically recyclable, consumers still need to separate the used coffee grounds from their containers; otherwise, they are sent to waste facilities. Some have figured out a way to shift that narrative.
Nespresso uses aluminum, a highly reusable metal, for its pods and provides its users with a simple recycling program that requires little more effort than dropping off used pods at a collection point. This program allows the company to compost the grounds and recycle the aluminum. Currently, Nespresso makes many of its pods with 80% recycled aluminum and plans to expand to the entire Nespresso pod line by the end of 2022. With this program, Nespresso communicates its values and in turn, builds a meaningful and loyal relationship with its consumer.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
The goal of every CPG product is to capture a portion of the market share. Considering the end-of-life scenarios for food waste and packaging creates unique opportunities to tap into customer values and develop deeper relationships based on more than just consumption which could have huge implications for both shareholders and the environment. Innovation requires thinking outside the box. A good place to start might be thinking in a circle.