Sustainable packaging is on the minds of designers, brands, haulers and recyclers. That is why in our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Reyna Bryan, president of RCD Packaging Innovation.
RCD is a Colorado-based advisory firm that works with brands and manufacturers to bring forward new sustainable packaging solutions. RCD specializes in product development, commercialization, and facilitating collaborative innovation.
See what Bryan had to say about designing for end-of-life, the importance of incentivizing positive innovations and more.
Waste360: How did you end up in packaging?
Bryan: I’ve been obsessed with materials and materials management for as long as I can remember, which is kind of a weird thing to have as an obsession. But, as a little girl, I was just really concerned about seeing trash cans overflowing — and I knew if I saw that in my little town, then I could extrapolate that out to the whole world and I was like, “Something’s wrong here.” And so, that’s what really has inspired my journey into sustainable packaging innovation.
My work is really around transforming supply chains because I think that we, as a species, have the capability to produce goods and services without being destructive to our natural systems. I’ve been doing sustainable packaging for 10 years now. I got into the space looking at flexible films, asking how we could design these so they could be compostable.
Waste360: It’s wonderful that you design with end-of-life in mind, but that certainly isn’t always the case.
Bryan: What I’ve found as an engineer over the years is that a lot of these materials that we’re using today — the conventional plastics — there is a lot of brilliance that went into them. These are high-performing materials. But they were not designed with the end in mind, and it’s really hard to put that thought in as an endnote.
Waste360: I saw that you recently did your “Redefined Flexible Films” workshop with lots of great brands like Mars, Pepsi Co, Whole Foods…can you tell us more about that?
Bryan: That was a really exciting process. A lot of my work has been looking at packaging problems and solutions from a really high level. And in the early years of my career, it was really hard to get manufacturers to try new materials on their line, and it was hard to get collective buy-in. So I wanted to do something outside-the-box and thought, “why don’t we bring the entire industry together through a design-thinking-style innovation workshop?” And I ended up inviting experts from across the flexible-film packaging supply chain to participate. We focused on this element because it is one of the most complex packaging formats. It’s highly engineered, needs to protect from moisture and oxygen, be formed and sealed on specific equipment… But these films are a major contributor to ocean plastic. So we brought 80 experts together over 10 months, and it was fascinating to see so many different perspectives and challenges all coming together. The unifying question that brought us all together was, “How can we deliver products to our customers that allows us to differentiate ourselves in the market but create no waste in the process?” We also asked the group, “What does a zero-waste world mean to you?”
Waste360: What sort of outcomes have you seen from the workshop?
Bryan: First off, over the course of the workshop, 1,500 ideas were generated about creating products and solutions for a zero-waste world — and how to tackle challenges. Ultimately, the group really gravitated toward compostable solutions, which was interesting to see. The group also identified an important challenge, which is the fact that not enough resources are going in to the development of these new solutions. So they said, “Hey, we really need to rethink and re-imagine materials in order to get to this new state where the materials we create don’t wreak havoc on natural systems.” Out of the workshop, nine incubation teams worked an extra six months to bring some of their ideas to life, and four are still continuing.
Waste360: What do you think is really motivating brands these days to rethink their sustainability goals?
Bryan: Definitely the issue of plastics in the ocean is a visceral thing that is helping companies realize their impact, and they are looking at sustainable packaging a bit differently. I was talking with the head of supply-chain purchasing and procurement for a huge brand and asked him, “How does a large company like yours think about sustainable packaging?” Because in the past, it was all driven by price. But now I’m seeing brands thinking about the transition to sustainable packaging not as a cost of goods sold but as a cost of doing business. As opposed to an added cost, this is now something that consumers and everybody is beginning to expect, and if brands want to have a space on the shelf in the future, they have to make that transition. This reframing has been very helpful.