What lies ahead for packaging sustainability?

Kari Embree

April 30, 2014

4 Min Read
What lies ahead for packaging sustainability?

Packaging Digest caught up with Minal Mistry, senior manager of sustainability solutions at GreenBlue, for an exclusive interview on where the future of packaging sustainability is headed. Mistry will also be speaking on the same subject at TexasPack on Thurs., May 8, 2014.

Mistry provides support to a range of projects with an emphasis on sustainable materials management strategies. He is product owner of COMPASS (Comparative Packaging Assessment), a life cycle analysis (LCA) software designed for packaging professionals to factor in environmental performance at the earliest design steps. Minal leads the international outreach and education efforts for the SPC.

What are some of the key principles of Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) and how do they contribute to the whole system approach to packaging?

Mistry: The SMM framework is a comprehensive way to look at materials used in all sorts of things in modern society and is easily applicable to packaging. At GreenBlue, we talk about the SMM framework in terms of the lifecycle of a material used in a good or package. The main focus areas are 1) Use Wisely—which puts the focus on the sourcing of materials from the Earth, and the stewardship that goes along with that for the environment and humans; 2) Eliminate Toxicity—here the emphasis is on the product and package itself, and the goal is to remove inherent toxicity of the substances used for people and planet; 3) Recover More—this is self-evident as it focus on recycling to keep the embodied energy of materials in the technical sphere to become new products and packaging. All of this does not preclude companies from being profitable, rather offers a framework that can help the company become more competitive in a resource constraint global world.

How does SMM serve as the intellectual framework for packaging design decisions?

Mistry: For packaging, the SMM framework allows us to look at material stewardship in a simple yet robust manner. The three main foci listed above are directly relevant to packaging. Use Wisely is applicable to all material classes (paper and board, metals, plastics and glass) because sustainable sourcing of raw materials from the planet is going to become a growing concern as demand increases and resources are depleted. Eliminate Toxicity is very relevant. Think about all the negative publicity and potential risk to brands that come from topics such as bisphenol-A (BPA) in toys and bottles, and heavy metals in food contact packaging. Lastly, Recover More is an area that packaging suffers a great deal of negative publicity because often packaging is seen as waste. About 30 percent of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. is made up of packaging. Many materials such as plastics suffer from a lot of bad publicity due to poor recovery, litter and pollution in the oceans. Thinking through these aspects at the design stage can help create packaging that is responsibly sourced, has no toxins and can be easily recycled. This is beneficial to the company by being able to tell their sustainability story to enhance their brands, and benefits society at large too.

Where is the packaging industry headed in terms of sustainability?

Mistry: In the packaging industry there is a lot of focus on sustainability. Understandably, much of that focus is about recycling. There are companies that are also thinking about moving away from fossil fuel based materials such as plastics towards more bio-based materials. This trend is showing innovation in non-traditional fibers such as bagasse, switch grass, bamboo, hemp, which is introducing new types of papers and plastics. This is essential work that can help move the system away from the dependence on petroleum, and holds potential for packaging material sustainability. Another movement is in greater communication along the supply chain as brands try to improve their sustainability stories. This is benefitting the overall sustainability of the packaging industry as supply chain partners are learning from each other’s experiences to improve sourcing, manufacturing processes, energy profile and recyclability.

How is the industry standardizing how and what to measure?

Mistry: Standardization for sustainability measurement started with work at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition with its work to identify relevant indicators and metrics for packaging supply chain. This work led to the development of the Global Protocol for Packaging Sustainability and is now integrated into the GS1 barcode system. The significance of these activities is that in the near term the industry actors will be able to share key indicators with supply chain partners in a standardized manner using web-based platforms, thus eliminating the need to fill out multiple scorecards or reporting forms. Having said that, work remains to be done that harmonizes what is being consistently measured and what is nice to have in the longer term to affect ongoing sustainability efforts. Still, we know the basic frame of what should be measured for each material class used to make packaging. So, that is a good starting point for companies to get onboard.

To register for the TexasPack show, visit pdlinks.com/TexasPack.

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