Unless youve been ignoring the headlines for the past few years, you may not realize that the world is choking on single-use plastics and packaging. You know what that iseverything from the plastic utensils used to chow down on vittles packaged in plastic takeout containers, plastic cups for drinks at picnics and parties, plastic bags that our frozen vegetables are sold in and the list is endless, while our reliance on plastic doesnt seem to wane. The adult products industry is no stranger to plastic packaging, either. The ubiquitous clam package has permeated the market since its creation in 1978 by U.S. inventor Thomas Jake Lunsford. He patented the package design and called it the Clamshell, which is a type of plastic blister packaging. Plastic blister packaging is pre-formed, plastic packaging, commonly used for consumer products such as food, hardware products and, of course, adult toys with many of them requiring see through, tamper-proof, sealed packaging. The clamshell is often formed around the shape of the product, allowing for easy customization to appeal to both the manufacturer and the consumer while being produced at a very low cost. But according to a recent National Geographic article by Stephen Leahy, product packaging generates more plastic waste than any other industry. In Europe, it accounts for 59 percent of all plastic waste by weight. In the United States, that is likely closer to 65 percent, experts say. The global packaging market is a $700 billion-a-year industry and growing at 5.6 percent per year. Plastics account for one-third of this, making packaging the largest single market for U.S. plastics. The earth is choking on the increasing surge in plastic packaging despite efforts by large companies to decrease their reliance on the material. Less than 5% of plastic is recycled, including plastic bottles made of PET, the same material that clamshells are made of. In 2018, China began refusing to accept U.S. garbage, including recyclable materials, completely upending the final stop of the global supply chain. According to an analysis by Unearthed, Greenpeaces investigative arm, because of Chinas position on accepting waste, plastics are now frequently shipped from America to other countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. The trash disposal and recycling industry in these countries is notoriously mismanaged and the garbage from many of these companies often gets carelessly strewn across city streets and countrysides. It is a crisis, indeed. So what is the adult industry doing to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging? And what do some top retailers and manufacturers think about the state of sustainable packaging in the industry? Perhaps with this insight, retailers may take the reins for sustainability in the future. Kim Marks, owner of As You Like It in Eugene and Love Revolution in Ashland, Oregon, has always been an advocate of earth friendly products and packaging, beginning with her advocacy work with Greenpeace. Recyclable and sustainable packaging is highly important Kim and her retail businesses. I want my business to have the smallest footprint possible, Marks said. When asked what company she feels is the leader in eco-conscious packaging, Marks added, Fun Factory has done a great job with their packaging. If possible, I always look to see on the boxes what percentage is post-consumer recycled because that is the part that matters. A lot of paper packaging is made from endangered forests and if packaging contains a majority of post-consumer material, then it ultimately saves the forest. Kristen Tribby, global director of marketing and education at Germany-based Fun Factory, weighed in with what sustainability means to this worldwide manufacturer. Sustainability is about both the materials you use and where you source the packaging from, Tribby said. Fun Factory uses 100% recyclable packaging with zero plastic and minimal glue. Our packaging is sourced locally in Germany to avoid the carbon impact of shipping overseas and to have a greater control of the packaging design and manufacturing. Tribby continued, As an added bonus, we took sustainable packaging to the next level, making it reusable as well as recyclable. Now, the packaging for all of our toys can be repurposed into two playful games, so our consumers get to have more FUN. Dee Bertino, from New Jerseys Fantasy Gifts, expressed her views as a long-time brick-and-mortar storefront. Sustainability has increasingly become an issue for us as a retailer, Bertino said. In the early years (we’ve been in business since 1980), it was not an issue at all. In fact, I would say it is only in the last few years that it has become a bigger factor. James Pepper of Peppers Parties Too with two stores in Mississippi remarked, Personally, I like the idea of sustainable model in packaging. It was through his purchasing of guitars made with sustainable wood that he gained a newly developed awareness of using forest-consumables, including rare woods. Awareness of plastic and sustainable materials in packaging has influenced both the retail buyer and consumer. Bertino added, Part of this is better awareness among us as retailers and consumers, and part of this is driven by there being better packaging options within the adult industry. Of course, in order to appeal to both the retail buyer and ultimately consumer, the responsibility of shifting to more sustainable packaging lies with the manufacturer here in the US. Rebecca Weinberg, president of XR Brands, considers that sustainable packaging consists of cardboard boxes made with recycled material. Cardboard is the go-to solution for sustainable packaging and at least 60% of our products use sustainable packaging. While cardboard is easily the most recyclable packaging material, either post-consumer or virgin (first-time use cardboard), many of the challenges to both the manufacturer and consumer are the ubiquitous presence of plastic in packaging. This presents an issue at all levels of the adult products supply chain. The very commonly used clamshell packaging is a major culprit of non-sustainability. Fantasy Gifts Bertino shared her thoughts regarding the use of this plastic type of packaging. We are always thrilled to see manufacturers moving away from clamshell packaging, she said. What we would like to see is a decrease of the many manufacturers and distributors that encase their plastic packaging products inside plastic bags, doubling the amount of plastic used. We’d love to see this practice eliminated. This is also often the case when a product is viewed in its cardboard box and unbeknownst to the consumer, there is a pre-formed plastic tray within the box. Sometimes there are even two plastic trays inside the box with one nestled into the second to firmly hold the toy, charger, and any other necessary components for its function. Kim Marks from As You Like It and Dee Bertino from Fantasy Gifts had differing opinions on how plastic clamshell packaging affects their wholesale purchasing decisions. It deeply affects Bertinos product selection as there are companies who make a great product but then they use clamshelll packaging or over-do the packaging, so I don’t bring in some of those products or I limit what I bring in from them. There are also companies who used to have packaging that was lower impact and then they switched to clamshell, so I do carry less of those lines. These changes are often brought on by lower packaging production costs or repackaging products to freshen up a line during which the manufacturers may overlook the environmental impact of their packaging shift. With her eye on the bottom line, Bertino remarked, We are always driven by packaging but I have to be honest. The most important factor is eye-catching packaging that will sell the product. We are willing to pay a slightly higher price point for sustainable packaging but if the number is too high, we will have to forgo in favor of less sustainable packaging. Sharing what so many small retailers experience, Bertino continued, Quality, price and merchandising are our main priorities. James Pepper from Peppers Parties Too has a similar belief that sustainable packaging really doesnt influence customers buying habits for the store. XR Brands is doing their part to be part of the shift. XR president Rebecca Weinberg shared, At least 60% of our products use sustainable packaging and we are trying to stay away from any packaging components made of plastic. We are already working on a more eco-friendly packaging, using more sustainable packaging, easy to recycle and less plastic, Weinberg continued. We also design all of our packaging and try to make the boxes as small as possible. With this, we try to use less material which also helps retail stores to save wall space. Employing smaller packaging also benefits brick-and-mortar stores as well as mail-order companies as traditional stores rely on a strong return on their merchandise square footage, allowing for more SKUs to display hooks and shelves. For mail order companies, utilizing less packaging for product translates to a smaller consumer shipping box and padding material and less cost for actual shipping. Fun Factory has always sourced locally and prioritized packaging audits to keep up to date with new materials and development in the packaging world. We are always looking for ways to be more sustainable, Kristen Tribby noted. In our recent update, we refreshed our packaging and shrunk down the size as much as each product line allowed for. Kim Marks As You Like It stores actively recycle whatever waste packaging can go in the bins, including the large cardboard boxes received with their orders. Bertino and Pepper pointed out how the communities where their stores are located arent as progressive when it comes to recycling, which is frequently a problem in commercial retail areas. I wish they were more pro-active when it comes to recycling was the collective thought with recycling the end product. Going green, recycling and creating sustainable packaging takes an effort on behalf of all members in the supply chain of the adult products industry. Retailers have a responsibility to their customers and manufacturers have a responsibility to their retailers to reduce plastics and further waste into the world environment. And how do you do that? One package at a time.
written by: Kim Airs