Sustainable Packaging

Remove, Reduce, Recycle, Renew, Re-use. These are five of the original 7 R's of Sustainable Packaging revealed by Wal-Mart when it introduced its Packaging Scorecard to a standing-room only audience at Pack Expo 2006. The mega-retailer has since shortened the list to reduce, reuse and recycle, but also added a new term, rethink, to encourage companies to always remember to consider smarter sustainable options.

 

To better understand sustainable packaging, we need to understand what sustainability is and how it's different from the focus in the 1970s on the environmental aspects and impacts of packaging.

 

Sustainability surfaced in packaging vernacular in 2006, after publication of "The Triple Bottom Line: How Today's Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success - and How You Can Too" by Andrew Savitz with Karl Weber, which Amazon.com describes as "the groundbreaking book that charts the rise of sustainability within the business world and shows how and why financial success increasingly goes hand in hand with social and environmental achievement."

 

This broader look expands on packaging's previous environmental-only focus to include the business (economic) and social aspects (such as ethical material sourcing and manufacturing conditions).

 

The basis for sustainable packaging started during the environmental movement in the 1970s. Americans celebrated their first Earth Day in 1970, and became aware of some of our ecological problems such as pollution and littering through various media outlets. One of the most powerful messages came from The Crying Indian anti-litter commercial from Keep America Beautiful.

 

The finger-pointing at packaging as the main culprit of the country's ecological problems didn't happen in force until the late 1980s. That's when the Garbage Barge became a media sensation. Piled high with trash from Long Island residents, the Mobro 4000 barge left New York City on March 22, 1987, initially headed for a landfill in the southern U.S. But the load was refused there, and at other ports. As Chaz Miller wrote in 2007 for Waste 360, "The economy was hot, and news was slow. Garbage, which is just the effluence of our affluence, was the perfect target. Greenpeace, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson all used the barge as fodder. Six months after it sailed, the garbage barge's trash was burned in a Brooklyn incinerator, and the ashes buried back in Long Island. The media didn't attend the funeral."

 

Thus began a concerted effort to reduce the volume of trash by increasing recycling rates of used packaging in the U.S. Efforts to establish an economically viable infrastructure for various packaging materials and engage all stakeholders continue to this day.

 

While sustainable packaging isn't a difficult concept to understand, it is complex. Is it replacing a rigid container with a pouch? Is it removing a carton and letting a toothpaste tube stand on its own on a shelf? Is it creating one bulk pack instead of multiple single-serve items? Is it using PET instead of PVC because PET can be easily recycled? Is it changing from a round to a square container to be more cube efficient? Is it faster set-up times on the packaging line to minimize the amount of product and packaging waste? Yes, it's all of this - and more.

 

Sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Just as packaging is not the only eco target, although it is still top of mind for many. Right or wrong, packaging is frequently scrutinized and used as the measure of a company's overall sustainability, even though it may contribute only a small percentage to the total eco impact compared to other things, such as transportation, and water and energy use.

 

The idea of looking at the entire life cycle of a package - from raw materials all the way through disposal - gained ground in the early 2000s. But much of the focus remains on end-of-life.

 

In an exclusive interview with Packaging Digest in 2013, Jim Hanna, director, environmental impact, Starbucks Coffee Co., explains, "Consumers, especially in the U.S. and Canada, define sustainable packaging by focusing on end of life. That's caused us to focus a lot of effort and resources into creating solutions for our packaging because we know that's what resonates most with our customers."

 

But in seeking the broader, more encompassing definition of sustainable packaging, most packaging professionals refer to the Definition of Sustainable Packaging developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2005:

 

Sustainable packaging...

  • Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  • Meets market criteria for performance and cost
  • Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
  • Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
  • Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
  • Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  • Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles

Brand owners and packaging developers continue to search for more sustainable packaging materials.

For example, efforts to develop plant-based bioplastics for packaging accelerated in 2009 when the world's largest beverage company devoted time and resources to create and commercialize the PlantBottle. The Coca-Cola Co.'s first-generation PlantBottle replaced one of the two base components of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with renewable materials made from sugar cane byproducts.

PET is made of 30% mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) and 70% purified terephthalic acid (PTA). The PlantBottle replaces petroleum-based MEG with a plant-based alternative, which doesn't change the recyclability of the PET.

To help fund continued commercialization of the PlantBottle technology and make it more economically viable for all, Coke has collaborated with a number of suppliers - as well as consumer packaged goods (CPG) partners, including Heinz and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

While the Coca-Cola PlantBottle introduction was one of the most impactful developments for the bioplastics industry in recent years, it was not the only one. The Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance is another partnership developed to boost bioplastics development, an area of sustainable packaging that is undergoing a quiet revolution.

But bioplastics are only one alternate material being considered. Dell has been actively looking for and using sustainable alternatives for packaging materials, such as bamboo, wheat straw and mushroom-based packaging. In May 2014, the computer and accessories dynamo touted its new packaging made from air.

Content Tabs


Article

Decisions about which packaging materials to use for your products continue to be influenced by sustainable strategies and goals.


Article

Sustainable packaging has come to the cat-litter category, thanks to a joint effort from Nestle Purina PetCare and Ecologic Brands Inc.


Article

Industry is strengthened each year as new, ambitious professionals enter the workforce.


Article

A new study conducted at Michigan State University,  East Lansing, MI, reports that the additives touted to promote the biodegradation of polyolefins and PET do not live up to their claims.

 


Article

Pouches are under attack from some in the environmental community. Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld reminds us of the importance of remaining flexible.

 


Article

Bringing together stakeholders across a varied and complex supply chain can be an extremely rewarding, albeit challenging, prospect.


Article

What can you do with 5,000 plastic whisky bottles or 288,000 unused 10mL-glass pharmaceutical vials?


Article

Even though recycling rates are the highest they have ever been, recovery rates across waste streams are still increasing


Article

The sustainable-packaging mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is fundamental to controlling the packaging waste stream going forward, but what about plastic waste that’s already in our waterways?


Article

Zero waste is the new black. Is it really possible, and is all waste bad? Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld busts the myth.

 

An inclusive and prosperous future without waste is just ahead!


Article

Making sure packaging materials are “responsibly sourced” can help corporations meet their sustainability goals.


Article

For decades, recyclable rigid containers made of glass, PET and aluminum have provided eco-credibility for beverage packaging.


Article

Life-cycle analysis, extended producer responsibility and optimization for recovery are among the tools packaging professionals can use to improve their designs.


Article

The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, has filed a patent on a better, more sustainable way to save film and package costs other than to reduce film caliper.


Article

Things would be different if we all thought about packaging sustainability the same way.


Decisions about which packaging materials to use for your products continue to be influenced by sustainable strategies and goals. Compared to recyclable and/or recycled-content materials, compostable packaging often seems to be dismissed before...


Sustainable packaging has come to the cat-litter category, thanks to a joint effort from Nestle Purina PetCare and Ecologic Brands Inc. The package is a rigid container made from recycled, recyclable molded paper pulp, with a closure made...


Industry is strengthened each year as new, ambitious professionals enter the workforce. Unfortunately, the majority of educational institutions in the United States are not using their curricula to help stimulate a thriving...


A new study conducted at Michigan State University,  East Lansing, MI, reports that the additives touted to promote the biodegradation of polyolefins and PET do not live up to their claims.

 

The study, Evaluation of Biodegradation...


Pouches are under attack from some in the environmental community. Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld reminds us of the importance of remaining flexible.

 

Take a walk through your local Whole Foods, Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage or...


Bringing together stakeholders across a varied and complex supply chain can be an extremely rewarding, albeit challenging, prospect. GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition is leading a project that brings together the forest products supply...


What can you do with 5,000 plastic whisky bottles or 288,000 unused 10mL-glass pharmaceutical vials? RepurposedMaterials founder and president Damon Carson debriefs us on the packaging component of his operations that find a home for unwanted, but...


Even though recycling rates are the highest they have ever been, recovery rates across waste streams are still increasing...


The sustainable-packaging mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is fundamental to controlling the packaging waste stream going forward, but what about plastic waste that’s already in our waterways? That question bothered teenager Boyan Slat so much that...


Zero waste is the new black. Is it really possible, and is all waste bad? Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld busts the myth.

 

An inclusive and prosperous future without waste is just ahead!

That’s what the...


Making sure packaging materials are “responsibly sourced” can help corporations meet their sustainability goals. When it comes to fiber, the pool of responsible sources may be expanding, which might have a positive impact on price and availability...


For decades, recyclable rigid containers made of glass, PET and aluminum have provided eco-credibility for beverage packaging. Now a biodegradable, wood-fiber beverage bottle is on the sustainable-packaging horizon, thanks to a partnership between...


Life-cycle analysis, extended producer responsibility and optimization for recovery are among the tools packaging professionals can use to improve their designs.

You can learn how to best use these sustainability practices to your advantage...


The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, has filed a patent on a better, more sustainable way to save film and package costs other than to reduce film caliper. The key is to use a foamed film made in part or whole with renewable, recyclable and/...


Things would be different if we all thought about packaging sustainability the same way. That’s what you, the Packaging Digest readers, told us when we asked what stands in the way of making packaging more sustainable. More than the...


IMEX Packaging is a leading supplier of high-quality, distinctive CLEAR bags and packaging since 1974. We know that in this fast-paced world, timeliness is of the essence. That's why we strive to provide quick turn-around at the most competitive...


Discover what literally hundreds of thousands of customers have come to know and trust since 1952 - McNICHOLS is the worldwide leader in providing Perforated Metal, Expanded Metal, Wire Mesh and other Designer Metals, as well as a full line of...


Mondi is an international packaging and paper Group, with production operations across 30 countries and over 25,700 employees. Its key operations and interests are in central Europe, Russia and South Africa.

At Mondi, our vision is...


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At So-Cal Solar Inc., we pride ourselves on our unwavering integrity and commitment to quality that we bring to every installation. Our customer service is unparalleled in the solar industry. Dedication to our core values of service, innovation,...


Air Products touches the lives of consumers around the globe in positive ways every day. With over 20,000 employees and operations in more than 50 countries, we serve customers across a wide range of industries from food and beverage, health and...


As the world’s leading packaging manufacturer, Amcor offers customers the highest quality in innovative and sustainable packaging solutions, and partnerships built on service, reliability and excellence. Our extensive global footprint puts us on...


With sales of 11,2 billion euros in 2013, Bayer MaterialScience is among the world’s largest manufacturers of high-tech materials. The company’s innovative products and solutions are used in many key industrial sectors and help to bring about...


Berkley International Packaging is leading the way in eco-friendly packaging solutions.

We are striving to not only become a premier supplier in the molded fiber industry, but in the custom packaging space as well.

As a provider of...


Best Packaging Systems Inc. was established in 1987 to provide quality products and services to a wide variety of industries. Twenty-five years later, our commitment to our customers remains strong, based on our personalized service and technical...


Reduce: Reducing waste generated by buying/driving less or buying products that use biodegradable packaging made from sustainable resources is the best way to be environmentally friendly.

Reuse:

Reusing items that...


Founded in 1949 by J.D. Tatem, Plastic Suppliers, Inc. is an innovative, international film manufacturer that has produced high quality plastic film for nearly 60 years. This makes Plastic Suppliers one of the top film producers in the world.

...

Ecologic Brands is dedicated to creating a more sustainable world through better packaging choices.

Let’s face it, much of today’s packaging is not recycled and piles up in landfills. In fact, 71% of today’s plastic milk and...


Our goal is to drive value for our customers by providing them solutions to meet increasing government Industry and consumer demands for environmental sustainability and biodegradability

Eco-One™ is easy to use and will run under existing...


We are Committed to working with industry and consumers to rid the world of toxic, unsustainable materials.. Ecovative is a material science company developing a new class of home-compostable bioplastics based on mycelium, a living organism....