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The biggest packaging material innovations you should know about

Illustrated shipping box made out of growing, organic material

As personal and corporate environmental responsibility grows, so has the demand for alternative packaging materials that can properly protect products while reducing environmental effects. Global name brands are even making sustainable packaging part of their corporate objectives.

Bin Jiang, Director of Global Sourcing with Veritiv, and her team are responsible for exploring, developing, validating and implementing new substrates and applications. We recently sat down with her to hear about today’s biggest packaging material innovations. Here’s what she’s seeing on the front lines.

Rapid renewable fibers

Rapidly renewable substrates made from agricultural waste, such as molded fiber products, are gaining popularity amid the backlash against plastics and the alarming decline in natural resources.1

Jiang says material experts are engineering, designing and manufacturing RRFs that outperform most plastics and foams. These products are often recyclable or compostable, more aesthetically pleasing and perform well during transportation testing.

Reusing or removing plastic from the ocean

Formatted text representing a point made in the contentEight million tons of plastics end up in our oceans every year, and by 2050, plastics may outnumber fish in the sea.2  Companies and entire countries are taking action to combat this growing problem.

In the corporate sector, a leading computer manufacturer is aiming to recover and reuse millions of pounds of ocean plastic in the coming years. They’re working with Veritiv to turn ocean-bound plastics into thermoforming trays and end cap cushions.

Recycled materials 

Jiang says brands and packaging designers are looking for materials from various waste streams that can be recycled, composted or reused in other ways to extend their lifecycle. For instance, her team is using old corrugated cartons to make new molded pulp cushions, as well as repurposing pollution ink made from power plant exhaust.

Additives and surface treatments 

Plastic has been a go-to packaging material for preventing damage and abrasions to fragile products. But now, additives and surface treatments, such as coatings, are being developed for environmentally preferable protection.

If your firm is considering alternative materials for sustainability, Jiang recommends completing a lifecycle assessment—also known as a lifecycle analysis or LCA—to understand the risks and environmental effects of each substrate. She uses electric car batteries as an example, pointing out that they may seem more sustainable, but when you look at the whole lifecycle, that’s not always the case. “There are a lot of claims about the sustainability of certain substrates. But with a lifecycle analysis, you can make sure they’re really better,” she explains.

Biodegradability varies

Some materials are only biodegradable in an industrial environment. If you work with a CPG firm that values biodegradability, make sure consumers can compost your packaging materials. 


1 Science Magazine: Landmark analysis documents the alarming global decline of nature (2019). Retrieved from
2 Dell Technologies | Corporate: Recycling materials – discarding the idea of waste (2019). Retrieved from