The proliferation of digital design optimization tools in recent years provides packaging designers with new ways to design the best, most sustainable packaging.

Kate Bertrand Connolly, Freelance Writer

January 24, 2024

8 Min Read
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Packaging engineers and designers face myriad decisions when creating a new package or redesigning an existing one. One of the most important decisions is which packaging materials to use.

A number of software tools have emerged to analyze the performance and sustainability of packaging materials, enabling designers to choose the best materials for the package at hand.

Lab testing may also be required, particularly for foods, beverages, and cosmetics, to make sure the product and packaging materials will work well together. Compatibility testing helps narrow the range of materials to be digitally analyzed or modeled later.

Compatibility testing.

QIMA offers a range of chemical and physical food-packaging tests. These include compatibility testing, which looks at interactions between the product and packaging material to determine risk to the product’s safety or quality. Unwanted chemical reactions and food spoilage are examples of possible problems.

QACS Lab also performs packaging compatibility testing in various product categories. For cosmetics, this includes overall migration testing to quantify migration of chemical, non-volatile substances from the packaging into the product.

ADSL, in the United Kingdom, provides product development, testing, and regulatory lab services for cosmetics, foods, and household products. During compatibility testing, the company investigates product formulations in combination with a variety of packaging formats.

A typical compatibility test method at ADSL is to fill product into the package and keep samples at various temperatures for 12 weeks. During that period, scientists test the package samples periodically to evaluate appearance, color, odor, leakage, weight loss, and pack functionality.

Performance and sustainability.

After compatibility testing is complete, and the packaging engineers or designers have selected the most appropriate packaging material — paper, plastic, metal, glass, or multi-material — numerous software tools are available to evaluate the material’s potential performance and sustainability.

Many life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools are available to quantify the environmental impacts of packaging and products. The following list presents several LCA tools, as well as software that investigates packaging performance and economic impacts.

• EcoImpact-COMPASS

COMPASS is perhaps the best known of the LCA tools used by packaging supply chains. Launched by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2006 to drive sustainable packaging design, COMPASS uses environmental performance metrics to aid in pack development and materials selection.

Over the years, COMPASS has evolved to keep up with changes in packaging sustainability goals and requirements and to keep datasets and modeling techniques as current as possible.

EcoImpact-COMPASS combines the EcoImpact sustainability platform, from Trayak, with COMPASS. The combined tool can incorporate proprietary materials and track custom metrics. It also helps designers calculate unique sustainability scores for their packages and measure environmental impacts arising from packaging changes.

• SavvyPack

SavvyPack is a subscription service that provides the expertise of human analysts; content developed for the packaging industry; and the company’s proprietary packaging-analysis software, SavvyPack SA Structure Assistant.

Content is geared to performance-properties modeling; it includes packaging materials and structure characteristics such as weight, thickness, and barrier properties based on various temperature and humidity variables.

SavvyPack SA performs package modeling, transforming lab test results into what the company calls “virtual predictions.” Packagers can choose from the commercial structures incorporated in the software or design a structure from scratch. Additionally, SavvyPack Analytical Service delivers integrated value chain and life-cycle analysis.

• SimaPro P-ACT

A web-based option called the Packaging Assessment and Comparison Tool (P-ACT) is powered by SimaPro LCA software. PRé Sustainability (SimaPro’s developer) and Procter & Gamble collaboratively developed P-ACT.

This tool focuses on packaging’s environmental impact, enabling designers to easily develop and analyze packaging scenarios and calculate the environmental impact, as well as compare alternatives. Designers gain the information needed to choose the best packaging materials and end-of-life options, based on sustainability metrics.

P-ACT encompasses 50 packaging materials, including post-consumer recycled and bio-based plastics. Environmental impact is assessed using eight indicators, such as global warming, land use, and water use.

• Quantis eQopack

An eco-design software platform from Quantis, called eQopack, enables packaging engineers to calculate the environmental footprint of packaging designs, simulate packaging scenarios, and score the environmental impact and performance of pack designs.

User-friendly eQopack assesses packaging design performance in every life-cycle stage, from raw materials to end of life, and facilitates the comparison of packaging options. Users can customize the tool to meet their particular needs, adapting materials lists and other database contents.

The metrics in eQopack include 17 LCA impact categories — such as carbon footprint, land use, and resource depletion — plus eight sustainability indicators, including reusability, recycled content, and pack-to-product weight ratio.

• PIP360°

PIP360° is an online benchmarking tool that provides key packaging sustainability measurements to help packaging designers and sustainability professionals meet their circular-packaging goals.

The PIP360° model can be used to evaluate 70 packaging materials, including 36 plastics, as well as materials combinations.

Using packaging-specifications data, the PIP360° tool calculates a score for recyclable, reusable, or compostable packages. Package designers and engineers can compare the scores for different package designs, and the tool will suggest changes that would improve a package’s score.

Suggested changes could include, for example, reducing the package’s weight, increasing recycled content, and/or increasing bio-based plastic content.

• Sphera

Sphera LCA for Packaging features a calculator that enables designers and engineers to evaluate packaging’s environmental impact.

Users can identify the most sustainable option for their packaging application, calculate a pack’s circularity, compare and contrast the environmental impact of different packaging designs, and model LCA using Sphera LCA for Packaging and the LCA Calculator.

By simulating packaging’s environmental impact, the software helps designers and engineers make informed decisions — not only about packaging materials, but also manufacturing.

An on-demand webinar from Sphera, titled “How to Design Sustainable Packaging,” highlights key aspects of sustainable packaging design and introduces viewers to the company’s packaging calculator.

• SPICE

Designers of cosmetics and personal-care products can use the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics (SPICE) tool to measure and reduce the environmental footprint of their packaging throughout its life cycle. SPICE was cofounded by L’Oréal and Quantis and has 25 member companies from the beauty industry.

The SPICE tool uses a data-driven methodology to assess packaging performance across each life-cycle stage, calculating an environmental footprint based on 16 environmental indicators. These include climate change, resource depletion, water use, and effects on biodiversity.

Using this tool, packaging designers can model different packaging scenarios and easily compare the environmental impact of different packages.

• PIQET

PIQET is an LCA software tool that aids packaging designers in boosting the environmental performance of their pack designs. With PIQET, they can calculate and compare sustainability data for different packages, including environmental impacts and resource consumption.

Users can rely on the tool to identify problem areas in need of sustainability improvements throughout the supply chain. PIQET is based on the ISO 14040 standards for LCA and uses the global ecoinvent database.

The tool holds benefits for brand owners, material suppliers, and packaging companies as they perform LCA for internal purposes and external verification. Potential users include packaging engineers, material scientists, marketing professionals, and environmental managers.

• Pilario Instant LCA Packaging

The Instant LCA Packaging tool from Pilario is accessible through a user-friendly web interface, enabling packaging designers to determine their most eco-friendly packaging options. The software can calculate the environmental impacts of containers such as boxes, bottles, and cans, as well as components such as closures, labels, and sleeves.

In addition to incorporating packaging data from numerous internationally recognized LCA databases, this tool allows users to import their packaging suppliers’ data, add bills of materials (BoMs), and integrate with supplier data systems through application programming interfaces (APIs). Thus, LCA results are tailored precisely to the user’s supply chain.

• PackageSmart

EarthShift Global worked with packaging engineers at leading companies, such as Colgate-Palmolive, and with packaging educators at Michigan State University, to develop PackageSmart LCA software. This tool incorporates more than 8,000 internationally verified sustainability datasets.

The software can perform scenario-based analyses to show how environmental impacts change when a package design is altered to use less material. It can also compare packaging materials to identify which is better from a LCA perspective; improve cube utilization, boosting transportation efficiency; perform custom recycling analysis; and identify the biggest sources of environmental impact, providing alternatives.

• Ecochain Mobius

Mobius LCA software for sustainable packaging design, from Ecochain, features comprehensive materials data related to life-cycle stages such as materials extraction, processing, transportation, and disposal.

The software’s database holds environmental-impact data for more than 100 packaging materials, including plastics, bioplastics, metals, organic materials, adhesives, and solvents.

By comparing the results for different materials, packaging designers can discover new materials with a smaller carbon footprint, that use less water, and that are more recyclable and less toxic. They can also model packaging designs iteratively, using different materials to gradually decrease environmental impact.

• MODSIM

MODSIM is another type of software that packaging engineers and designers are increasingly working with. MODSIM is a contemporary approach to computer simulation that can optimize packaging designs and materials, as well as packaging operations.

As the name suggests, MODSIM software allows users to combine package modeling and simulation. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform for MODSIM, from Dassault Systèmes, is adept at managing complex packaging scenarios, enabling the engineering, manufacturing, and operations teams — and even external team members — to collaborate on packaging solutions.

Use cases for the 3DEXPERIENCE platform include projects targeting cleaner energy use, sustainable production, and circular-economy waste reduction.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Perfect Packaging solution targets end-to-end packaging design, with brand manufacturers, agencies, and packaging suppliers collaborating. The solution’s rapid iteration capabilities speed up packaging design, tooling development, and in-store visualization. Benefits include shorter design cycles, lower costs, and the virtual elimination of production issues and product recalls.

About the Author(s)

Kate Bertrand Connolly

Freelance Writer

Kate Bertrand Connolly has been covering innovations, trends, and technologies in packaging, branding, and business since 1981.

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