Packaging sustainability hangs in the balance

Robert Lilienfeld in Sustainable Packaging on April 06, 2016

What is the role of sustainable packaging? And how does it fit into packaging as a whole? The answer can be illustrated by a real-world example of a peeled orange sold at retail in a clear package.

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Why did Whole Foods put a peeled orange in a package and charge $6 for it?

Was it because the company tries to:

 

A. Maximize sales and profitability.

B. Design packaging that meets protective, merchandising, and handling needs.

C. Serve customers who want, and will pay for, the convenience of pre-peeled fruit.

D. A & B.

E. All of the above.

 

The answer is obviously “C”.

No, wait…it’s “A”.

Hmmmm…maybe it’s “D”.

 

And, that’s the point. There is no one right answer. A package plays many roles, all of which are important to the sustainability of the product it contains, the consumer who buys the product, the store in which the product is purchased, and the supply chain that creates and distributes the product.

Of course, the devil is in the details: The goals of packaging vary greatly by need and expectations at different points in the supply chain. Sometimes these goals conflict and must be prioritized in order to create an acceptable balance of economic, environmental, and social gains and losses.

Given this, maybe the WF orange container really is an example of “egregious” packaging. But through which filter do we make such a pronouncement? We certainly know through which filter(s) consumers will make their decisions. Unfortunately, these may be not be the most efficient, effective, and expedient ways to conserve both food and packaging resources – even if they are among the easiest for consumers to adopt.

If we want to survive as an industry, we need to do a much better job of communicating all of the sustainability benefits (yes, and the costs) associated with packaging, and the filters used to determine the value and priority of those benefits.

No one is going to do this for us. Even the EPA, with its on-target and strategically important Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program, is having a hard time explaining both how their approach is more comprehensive than “the circular economy” approach, and why there is a lot more to enhancing sustainability than simply promoting more recycling.

Filling this void by clarifying the sustainable value of packaging is the key role played by AMERIPEN. We would very much welcome your thoughts, help, and support.  Write me at [email protected] to discuss.

 

What do you think? Please comment below.

Missed one of Bob's blogs? Read them here.

 

Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved with sustainable packaging for more than 20 years. He is currently editor of The ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, a marketing and communications consultant to AMERIPEN and other organizations, and is a professional photographer.

 

 

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What's an AMERIPEN?
AMERIPEN is the American Institute for Packaging & the Environment: The only material neutral, science based organization representing the entire packaging industry. Its focus is on sustainable packaging, recovery and recycling.