Monday, 26 February 2024

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Sustainable Packaging

What is sustainable packaging? Sustainable packaging is the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. This involves increased use of life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle assessment (LCA) to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint. There are different ways to define sustainable packaging. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Ecology defines sustainability as “Economic development that takes full account of the environment consequences of economic activity and is based on the use of resources that can be replaced or renewed and therefore are not depleted.” In our modern world the environmental sustainability and business do not always go closely associated with each other, even more when it comes to product packaging. A lot of packages like potato chip bags, toothpaste, and pizza boxes are often not recyclable. If you are thinking to yourself ‘why is a pizza box not recyclable?’ then the answer is simple. Although a pizza box is made of corrugated cardboard, it is not recyclable due to the grease, cheese, and all of the ingredients it comes with. Once the cardboard is soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the fibers in the cardboard will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process. When companies try to attract sustainability minded customers, it can often create a lot of problems within the company’s members. In our modern world, the design of the packaging can be the determining factor for whether to buy a product or not. Here is a picture that can further define Sustainable Packaging focusing on the key criteria.

Mark Dancy, President of WasteZero, says that while technology advances, there are a lot of opportunities for companies to boost an eco-friendly packaging environment. Despite all of the newly advanced technology a lot of companies still continue to commit packaging mistakes. Mark Dancy states that most companies focus on two main priorities: “how will this drive consumers to my product? How much does it cost?” For some companies, sustainability is not important because all they want to do is attract consumers and sell their product at a low price. For some companies, plastic bags is a very cheap way to make their product and but yet efficient at attracting consumers.

Based on the article “The Guardian” by Amy Wu, the typical snack chip bag is made from up to seven layers of foil and plastic. Companies like to use this method to store products because the bags are light, it reduces shipping volume, do not take up a lot of space on shelf, and has friendly graphics. The problem with this method is that there is no machine that can separate these layers, so they are not recyclable.

“It is not cost effective and there would be no market for the separated material,” explains Lawrence Black, director of global business development Waste Management, a US-based environment solutions provider. “It is expensive to fix and it all comes back to is there a market for the material. If there is not an ongoing market for the material it will not get recycled.” As mentioned earlier, environmental sustainability does not go hand in hand most of the time. However, there should not be an excuse to not at least try to provide a better sustainable packaging. There should be better laws to prevent big companies to just do what is most convenient for them and not take the environment into consideration. The companies are not just hurting us but future generations as well.

What is the solution? Regrettably there is no such thing as an easy solution based on sustainability experts at Waste Management. Multi-layer packaging is the worst kind of packaging that the world has seen since it is not recyclable. It is up to everyone to educate themselves about recycling. It can go a long way to increase recycling if consumers were merely better educated. For example, packages that have simpler multilayers, such as cereal boxes need to be separated for recycling. Another term that you might or might not heard about is “upcycling” meaning use your recycling to do craft projects for your home.

Another problem for the environment are single-serving foods such as yogurt and coffee cups. The two biggest factors for recyclability is size and material used to produce a product. In simpler terms the smaller a package is and the greater its mix of materials, the less recyclable it is. Sustainability experts know that single-serving foods are a problem to the environment. Their small size tends to make them harder to sell to recyclable facilities. There should be a law that states that all material that is recyclable should be recycled instead of giving recyclers the choice.

The solution to this problem is that to develop machinery that can easily separate the different layers of material. Another solution to a lot of the problems we have in the recycling sector would be to use biodegradable packaging. Some supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are using more compostable and biodegradable containers. Sadly, this is still very uncommon, companies should strive into making compostable, biodegradable packaging.

The toothpaste tube and the toothbrush: Recycling is almost impossible for toothpaste tubes because it is small in size, it has blended materials, and because of the leftover toothpaste inside toothpaste tubes. Now for the toothbrush it is the same problem, their shape, and nylon bristles makes it hard to disassemble the brush thus making hard to recycle. However, we as a people should not focus on the ‘it is hard’ aspect. If it is possible to recycle, but it takes time, then we should do it and not take the easy way out.

Although plastic bottles are easily recycled, there is still room for improvement. People should take the responsibility to recycle their plastic bottles. It is easier to just throw it in the recycle bin, but a lot of times people do not care and we end up with plastic bottles all over the place. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is used to make plastic bottles. Plastic bottles in a way is a case study and all we need is innovation and to reach out to consumers so they can make a stand to find better efficient ways to recycle. There are some states that have the deposit-refund system for returning plastic bottles. It is a step in the right direction for a better efficient way to recycle.

People might not see the damage behind online purchasing. A lot of times companies and private sellers that deliver your packages through the mail tend to often over-pack, which means sometimes they put a box within a box, and sometimes even a third box. This approach of packaging is extremely wasteful. Basically, the companies that do this can be whomever you are purchasing from like sellers on the ecommerce network. An easy solution for this method of packaging is to try to use sustainable packaging materials, instead of non-recyclable materials such as Styrofoam. There are many sustainable options, but businesses tend to stick to what it is most convenient and cost efficient. Some of the sustainable options business could choose from are materials made from corn starch or sorghum, which can be composed. Based on the New York- based Evocative design there has been a development of fungus-based packaging materials that are being used by some companies such as Dell, Crate, and Barrel and Puma.

Although the invention of food packaging has amazing benefits like allowing food to last longer than its normal cycle of life, and although much of the packaging can be recycled, there are a lot of areas that need improvement. Packaging has a bad reputation among consumers who want a better environment and those who want to see less of the littering. Thus, to solve this issue some brands and business are considering sustainable packaging options that are reusable, biodegradable, and even edible. However, this is just a consideration for some companies. A lot of companies are still centered on cost efficient and what is best for the company when it comes to doing business. On a report from The Times, Elsevier’s notes that even when it comes to mapping the impacted environment due to packaging can be challenging. Then he also states that if companies were to invest in sustainable packaging then that means that companies would have to sell their product at a higher cost and they need to take into consideration that whether or not consumers will pay that premium. However, there has been a variety of new packaging products, which have shown promise. The only way we can provide an environment friendly packaging is if we all work together.


Matt, W. (2016, December 5th) Is Sustainable Packaging Good for the Business Environment?

Amy Wu (2014, July 18) Good product, bad package: top sustainable packaging mistakes.

Katherine O’Dea (2013, May 1) What is Sustainable Packaging?

GreenBlue (2011) Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC)

G&H SOHO Inc. (1995,1999,2002,2009,2014) Fundamentals of Packaging Technology. Naperville, Illinois: Institute of Packaging Professionals.

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