Avery Dennison has collaborated with forecasting consultancy The Future Laboratory to produce a report assessing the issue of sustainability in retail and the shift towards regenerative retail systems.

The report suggests that sustainability in the sector is being driven by a change in consumer and retailer attitudes. It argues that a new model would require “recovering and recycling materials at a faster rate than we are using them and creating greener last-mile solutions for packaging, shipping and returns as e-commerce grows”. Investing in technological solutions and “digitizing the supply chain” would enable retailers to understand how they can reduce the waste they produce and improve how they manage it.

Traditional retail and the increase in the popularity of online shopping have resulted in a “packaging overload”, the report outlines. The rise of e-commerce has meant higher demand for the materials used to ship goods, which has led companies to reconsider the amount of unused space in their packaging.

The statistics quoted indicate that in 2020, corrugated box shipments had increased by 9% since 2019, while the market for secondary packaging is predicted to have reached $1.16bn by 2024. “The overabundance of packaging in retail is driving a mission to make packaging more sustainable through material innovation and increased recyclability,” the report says.

Consumers prioritise convenience when shopping, while also expecting retailers to offer sustainable packaging. Retailers must balance the expectation for convenience with their sustainability goals, which many are working towards by using more sustainable materials and improving the recyclability of their packaging.

Retailers are also trying to make sustainability more straightforward for consumers, the report argues. It goes on to highlight the success of informative labels and clear instructions in minimising confusion and helping people understand which items are recyclable and how they can go about recycling them correctly. Offering information and support to customers are also important steps being taken by business to encourage people to be more sustainable.

The report mentions that returning unwanted items creates “mountains of packaging” waste, with apparel being one of the most returned types of merchandise. It proposes that instead of “making returns fast and free, retailers can offer a different value exchange where returns are still convenient but more environmentally friendly through bundled returns, reusable packaging or one-stop pick-up, try-on and return outlets.”

In addition, improving the visibility of products using technologies such as audio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and “connecting tagged items to a cloud will enable…retailers to make stock available where needed – online and offline – helping to reduce waste”.

Finally, the report highlights the need for retailers to remain transparent and enable their processes to be traceable. It suggests that “proof of impact will become the new standard for retailers looking to deepen their sustainability story”, and new technologies will grant “consumers access to end-to-end transparency across the supply chain”.