EUROPEN, The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment, and ECR Europe, the group that promotes collaboration across the supply chain to serve consumers better, faster and at less cost, wrote Packaging in the Sustainability Agenda: A Guide for Corporate Decision Makers to help senior executives take decisions that optimize the contribution their company’s packaging policies make to sustainability.
In the guide, the groups argue that a Western Europe without packaging would lead to a 15-fold rise in food waste. As the project co-chairs Sonia Raja and Lars Lundquist put it; a key reason for widespread mistakes that are made when evaluating the role of packaging is that packaging is usually viewed as a stand-alone product. “This ignores its function, which is to protect, distribute, and display wares,” they remark. “A package that fails to do this well will lead to greater wastage, thus imposing a heavy burden on the environment, irrespective of its composition.”
The central problem is that the role of packaging in the product supply chain is often too complex to be easily grasped. This raises the risk that one part of that chain takes a decision that may seem right, but will in fact have a detrimental impact somewhere else up or down the line. Collectively, such decisions significantly reduce overall efficiency while raising costs, and can also lead to more waste. The sum total of these isolated decisions therefore reduces the contribution packaging can make to sustainable development.
Packaging must meet a multitude of functional objectives while minimizing its impact on the environment. Eurostat data released earlier this year showed that significant progress has already been made. While GDP grew by 40 percent from 1998 to 2006, the amount of packaging placed on the EU market only increased by 11 percent. “The easiest gains have largely been made”, said Julian Carroll, the managing director of EUROPEN. “The challenge to continue improving the performance of packaging is becoming more complex. And that means that corporate decision-makers increasingly need to become involved.”