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


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When it comes to full disclosure about products and packaging, just do it, advises Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld.

 

 


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Do judge a PET bottle sustainably by its weight, but not in the way you may assume, advises Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld.

 


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Food and beverage brand owners are among the most voracious for new packaging material developments, even (especially?) when it comes to sustainability.


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In April, the How2Recycle Label Program released its’ 2014 Annual Report, marking three successful years on-package.

Chelsea Briganti, Loliware

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Loliware co-founder/co-CEO Chelsea Briganti introduces us to a new type of plastic, one that is made from biodegradable—and edible—materials.


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Honesty is the best policy when it comes to sustainable packaging, says Eco-Insights blogger Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld, who provides a shining example.

 

 

Better upfront design can solve many sustainable packaging challenges

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Reusable primary packaging is finally getting the attention it deserves, which pleases founder and chief reuser at Replenish, Jason Foster. What has changed?


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The Biobased Packaging conference (BioPAC), which took place mid-May in Amsterdam, was both informative and disappointing.


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Packaging is a key market for the company’s R&D efforts in bioplastics using PLA and, especially, its PHA polymers for use in existing products and to create entirely new products with enhanced functionality and features.


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Floreon’s patented polymer formulation yields PLA-based polymer blends suitable for thermoformed and injection-molded packaging that also show promise for film and blow-molding operations.

 


When it comes to full disclosure about products and packaging, just do it, advises Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld.

 

 

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When TerraCycle began filming season one of our reality show, called “Human Resources,” we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We wanted to make entertaining TV, while simultaneously bringing greater awareness to packaging waste and recycling....


Forests are responsible for an incredible range of environmental, social and economic benefits. They provide clean air and water, home to vast amounts of biodiversity, wood for products we use every day and livelihoods for more than a billion...


Compared to many, I’m still a relative newcomer to the world of sustainable packaging. But I suspect it’s frustrating for newcomers and veterans alike to see the same problems crop up again and again in the packaging industry, seemingly never to...


Waste characterization is a general term for the systematic identification and categorization of materials within a particular waste stream. In Europe, waste characterization is done by waste management companies through coding systems classified...


Do judge a PET bottle sustainably by its weight, but not in the way you may assume, advises Eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld.

 

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Food and beverage brand owners are among the most voracious for new packaging material developments, even (especially?) when it comes to sustainability. Cost, product compatibility, shelf life, regulatory requirements and more still matter, of...


In April, the How2Recycle Label Program released its’ 2014 Annual Report, marking three successful years on-package. How2Recycle is a voluntary program that provides clear recycling instructions to consumers with the goal to increase the quantity...

Chelsea Briganti, Loliware

Loliware co-founder/co-CEO Chelsea Briganti introduces us to a new type of plastic, one that is made from biodegradable—and edible—materials. Although initially targeted for foodservice packaging, Lolliware offers a taste sensation for many types...


Few companies do sustainable packaging better than Method Products, which specializes in earth-friendly cleaning products and packaging design. Case in point: Method’s new 4X Concentrated Laundry Detergent comes in a sculpted bottle made of 100%...


Honesty is the best policy when it comes to sustainable packaging, says Eco-Insights blogger Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld, who provides a shining example.

 

 

Contains no BPA. 100% recyclable. 100% compostable and/or biodegradable....

Better upfront design can solve many sustainable packaging challenges

Reusable primary packaging is finally getting the attention it deserves, which pleases founder and chief reuser at Replenish, Jason Foster. What has changed? Better design is now advancing many sustainable packaging goals, including consumer...


The Biobased Packaging conference (BioPAC), which took place mid-May in Amsterdam, was both informative and disappointing.

It was informative because it illustrated many diverse ideas and potential roles of bioplastics in commodity packaging...


Packaging is a key market for the company’s R&D efforts in bioplastics using PLA and, especially, its PHA polymers for use in existing products and to create entirely new products with enhanced functionality and features.

 ...


Floreon’s patented polymer formulation yields PLA-based polymer blends suitable for thermoformed and injection-molded packaging that also show promise for film and blow-molding operations.

 

Bioplastic technology company ...


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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:

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015 to Thursday, October 8, 2015

Philadelphia hosts the region's new annual packaging event, boosted by medical and other manufacturing-related co-located shows.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 to Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Join the hoorah in Houston, as TexasPack 2015 brings you the latest in packaging products from top suppliers. Plus, the new 2-hour Learning Labs explore hot topics like 3D printing, quality in packaging and more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 to Thursday, November 5, 2015

Your local midwest packaging event brings live demonstrations of the latest equipment, design ideas and expert speakers on hot topics such as 3D printing, design ideation and innovation, supplier quality and more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 to Thursday, November 19, 2015

Orlando, FL, is your best destination for packaging machinery, materials and services solutions. The SouthPack 2015 event assembles exhibits showing the latest products along with new 2-hour Learning Labs to feed your educational hunger.