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New packaging ideas for the Circular Economy


Many new and extraordinary outside influences are currently having an impact on packaging innovation and the packaging supply chain. There are pressures from an environmental perspective, various conflicts around the globe (including Ukraine), global inflation, extended supplier responsibilities, changing legislation, etc. – all additional challenges packaging suppliers need to navigate.

Sustainability and the environment have become a top priority for consumers and governments alike and the packaging community is now moving to using alternative, environmentally friendly, packaging materials and also implementing circular economy principles.  We have also seen that more and more multinationals are aiming to accelerate the global transition to a circular economy, with the likes of Tetra Pak, Unilever, Ikea being some of the companies leading the charge.


What is a circular economy?

“In our current economy, we take materials from the Earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – the process is linear. In a circular economy, by contrast, we stop waste being produced in the first place” is the definition of a circular economy from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

In our work at Strategic Allies, we have come across a fair number of young companies operating in the Packaging sector and implementing the circular economy principles.


Principle #1: Eliminate waste and pollution

Currently, our economy is a “throw-away” system, where we take raw materials, use them to make products and then discard the products at the end of their life.  Today, most products finish their life in landfill.  Given that the earth’s resources are finite, this model is not sustainable in the longer term.

Here are a few companies that have taken an innovative approach to packaging, including edible packaging & removing packaging:

Twiice, are a young New Zealand company, founded in 2019, in the packaging and container sector.  The company has developed an edible cup that can be used as an early morning pick-me-up or late-night dessert.  We have been eating ice-cream in edible cones for some time now, but this is  taking that concept to the next level.  The Twiice edible cups are no-waste, free from additives and preservatives and leakproof!

Ryeharvest Limited, now One Good Thing (as of 2023), was previously one of our fellow tenants at Rothamsted Enterprises.  Ryeharvest launched their first product Nurhu, a range of energy bars with edible packaging.  Find out about the inspiration behind Nurhu in the Strategic Allies Tech Spotlight.

UK-based Notpla is a startup creating sustainable packaging out of seaweed and plants.  Their first product was Ooho, a flexible packaging sachet that is suitable for drinks and sauces, which is 100% edible (ideal for takeaway sauces and condiments) – leaving behind zero waste – or alternatively, it can biodegrade in 4-6 weeks.


Principle #2: Circulate products and materials at their highest value

The second principle is all about keeping materials in circulation, either as a product or, when that can no longer be used, as components or raw materials. Think reuse, recycle.  This way, nothing becomes waste and the intrinsic value of products and materials are retained.

Some products can be reused, repaired, remanufactured, and recycled. But where biodegradable materials are used, these can be returned to the earth through processes like composting and anaerobic digestion.

Here are a couple of companies with quite different products, with the first focussed on reuse and the second an example of using natural materials that can be returned to the earth through composting after use.

Recup is Germany’s largest reusable system for beverages-to-go and the food take-away sector.  Every year Germans consume 4.5 billion meal boxes for take-away and delivery food & 5.8 billion disposable cups for take-out drinks.  Recup have implemented a very simple system:

  • Order a to-go drink or take-away meal in the RECUP or REBOWL including a returnable deposit payment
  • Enjoy a drink or food on the go as usual
  • Return borrowed RECUPs and REBOWLs to all partner companies throughout Germany and get your deposit back.

Ecovative is a US-based company, that uses mycelium to grow a range of products including leather like textiles, sustainable packaging and high performance foams for apparel and beauty.   Ecovative have developed a “Mushroom Packaging” product made from two simple ingredients hemp hurd and mycelium.  Hemp hurd is a by-product of the fibre hemp industry.  Mushroom packaging can be used to replace products like Styrofoam and can be broken up and spread on the garden to compost, after use.


Principle #3: Regenerate nature

By moving from a take-make-waste linear economy to a circular economy, we support natural processes and leave more room for nature to thrive.

Here’s an example of a young innovative company that is using regenerative farming practices to cultivate the raw materials for their packaging:

Sway, is a US-based company, with a mission to replenish the planet by supporting healthy ocean ecosystems, eliminating waste and creating a more inclusive climate movement.  Sway makes seaweed based packaging, with the seaweed cultivated in regenerative ocean farms.   Sway’s flexible packaging solution is an alternative to plastic and can be composted after use.  In 2022, Sway was announced as a finalist in the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize.


This is just a small selection of the many young companies we have recently come across in the packaging sector, and there are lots of others out there.  This is an exciting sector with lots of innovation helping tackle the climate crisis as well as providing practical options.  A space to watch!

Strategic Allies works with multinational manufacturing companies, across all sectors, who are seeking differentiation through partners with innovative technologies and solutions for their products and services.  If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you to explore and exploit new markets and/or offer opportunities to differentiate your offerings, please contact John Allies at john@strategicallies.co.uk


Note: references to the Circular Economy principles are care of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.