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Sustainable Packaging – Everything Old Is New Again

Dennis Salazar

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
Sustainable Packaging – Everything Old Is New Again

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Recently I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 International Housewares Show, which I always enjoy because of the many new products and innovations that are annually launched there. As a lifelong packaging guy, I also could not help but notice the amount of “old” packaging I saw there. Please note, I now always use the word old with the greatest respect and sincere appreciation.

Packaging Sustainability Is “Retro”?

As the classic song says; “no need to remember when” because eventually, “everything old is new again”. In other words what we have always suspected is true in fashion and other facets of life, seems to be accurate about packaging as well. All of the old packaging products that were once replaced by products deemed as sleeker, newer, more high tech and better, are back again.

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Most noticeable is the reduced use of plastics in many different applications. They are starting to be replaced more frequently with paperboard, corrugated and even paper bag designs, as well as glass and metal containers. It seems the green market in search of a new, authentically “natural” look has dusted off some of these older materials, pulled them out of moth balls and reintroduced them to create ironically, a new look in packaging many of us boomers remember fondly from our younger days.

Paperboard Packaging Is Back to Basics

“Plain and simple” are no longer dirty words when it comes to design - in fact, they have become highly sought after end results for “natural” and organic products. Suddenly out of fashion are the high gloss, bleached white finishes, and bright colors as paperboard designs become much more basic, with soft, earth tone colors.

The other thing that is different is the board content of many of these new, old designs. You see a lot more natural Kraft (NK) which of course is brown in color and double Kraft lined (DKL) which has a high recycled content, and a lot less SUS (solid unbleached sulfate) and SBS (solid bleached sulfate).

Kraft Corrugated Is “Cool”

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Another packaging product that has become much more popular is micro, or e-flute, corrugated board for applications that have been traditionally done in paperboard. It seems the natural look of corrugated is now a plus and it also provides good strength versus cost compared to heavy caliper paperboard. Much like its paperboard cousin above, today’s corrugated design features few coatings and is usually printed in muted colors with vegetable based inks.
Glass and Metal versus Plastic Containers

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I have sold plastic for my entire career and I truly believe that there are some applications where plastic can indeed be the most eco friendly option. Many die hard “greenies” would argue with that and would be thrilled to see how much plastic is being replaced by good old fashion, glass and metal packaging.

Keep in mind in the past, plastic displaced metal or glass for reasons of design, convenience and/or weight. Certainly plastic offers some distinct and unique benefits but the green market today sees glass and metal as two of the most reusable and renewable packaging substrates available. Both glass and metal can be easily recycled almost anywhere, even in curb side recycling programs, while plastic recycling still lags behind in some communities.

In addition plastic has a very negative reputation to overcome whether the topic is BPA or its petroleum base. Neither is true of all plastics but regardless of the facts and specific situations, glass and metal have a much more positive green image. That of course makes them the obvious and logical choice for natural and organic products.

A Never Ending Cycle

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” was a favorite expression of a dear old friend of mine. Certainly the sustainability and packaging trends I saw at the Housewares Show would be proof of that.

This means undoubtedly in time we will likely see the return of bright colors, high gloss finishes, and yes, even plastic containers. I suspect however that if this shift to green is permanent, and I am certain it is, those products will have to reappear in safer and more earth friendly forms and formulations.

In the meantime I will continue to hang on to my eight-track and cassette music tapes, because, well … you just never know.

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