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Sustainable Packaging

Remove, Reduce, Recycle, Renew, Re-use. These are five of the original 7 R's of Sustainable Packaging revealed by Wal-Mart when it introduced its Packaging Scorecard to a standing-room only audience at Pack Expo 2006. The mega-retailer has since shortened the list to reduce, reuse and recycle, but also added a new term, rethink, to encourage companies to always remember to consider smarter sustainable options.

 

To better understand sustainable packaging, we need to understand what sustainability is and how it's different from the focus in the 1970s on the environmental aspects and impacts of packaging.

 

Sustainability surfaced in packaging vernacular in 2006, after publication of "The Triple Bottom Line: How Today's Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success - and How You Can Too" by Andrew Savitz with Karl Weber, which Amazon.com describes as "the groundbreaking book that charts the rise of sustainability within the business world and shows how and why financial success increasingly goes hand in hand with social and environmental achievement."

 

This broader look expands on packaging's previous environmental-only focus to include the business (economic) and social aspects (such as ethical material sourcing and manufacturing conditions).

 

The basis for sustainable packaging started during the environmental movement in the 1970s. Americans celebrated their first Earth Day in 1970, and became aware of some of our ecological problems such as pollution and littering through various media outlets. One of the most powerful messages came from The Crying Indian anti-litter commercial from Keep America Beautiful.

 

The finger-pointing at packaging as the main culprit of the country's ecological problems didn't happen in force until the late 1980s. That's when the Garbage Barge became a media sensation. Piled high with trash from Long Island residents, the Mobro 4000 barge left New York City on March 22, 1987, initially headed for a landfill in the southern U.S. But the load was refused there, and at other ports. As Chaz Miller wrote in 2007 for Waste 360, "The economy was hot, and news was slow. Garbage, which is just the effluence of our affluence, was the perfect target. Greenpeace, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson all used the barge as fodder. Six months after it sailed, the garbage barge's trash was burned in a Brooklyn incinerator, and the ashes buried back in Long Island. The media didn't attend the funeral."

 

Thus began a concerted effort to reduce the volume of trash by increasing recycling rates of used packaging in the U.S. Efforts to establish an economically viable infrastructure for various packaging materials and engage all stakeholders continue to this day.

 

While sustainable packaging isn't a difficult concept to understand, it is complex. Is it replacing a rigid container with a pouch? Is it removing a carton and letting a toothpaste tube stand on its own on a shelf? Is it creating one bulk pack instead of multiple single-serve items? Is it using PET instead of PVC because PET can be easily recycled? Is it changing from a round to a square container to be more cube efficient? Is it faster set-up times on the packaging line to minimize the amount of product and packaging waste? Yes, it's all of this - and more.

 

Sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Just as packaging is not the only eco target, although it is still top of mind for many. Right or wrong, packaging is frequently scrutinized and used as the measure of a company's overall sustainability, even though it may contribute only a small percentage to the total eco impact compared to other things, such as transportation, and water and energy use.

 

The idea of looking at the entire life cycle of a package - from raw materials all the way through disposal - gained ground in the early 2000s. But much of the focus remains on end-of-life.

 

In an exclusive interview with Packaging Digest in 2013, Jim Hanna, director, environmental impact, Starbucks Coffee Co., explains, "Consumers, especially in the U.S. and Canada, define sustainable packaging by focusing on end of life. That's caused us to focus a lot of effort and resources into creating solutions for our packaging because we know that's what resonates most with our customers."

 

But in seeking the broader, more encompassing definition of sustainable packaging, most packaging professionals refer to the Definition of Sustainable Packaging developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in 2005:

 

Sustainable packaging...

  • Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  • Meets market criteria for performance and cost
  • Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
  • Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
  • Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
  • Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  • Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles

Brand owners and packaging developers continue to search for more sustainable packaging materials.

For example, efforts to develop plant-based bioplastics for packaging accelerated in 2009 when the world's largest beverage company devoted time and resources to create and commercialize the PlantBottle. The Coca-Cola Co.'s first-generation PlantBottle replaced one of the two base components of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with renewable materials made from sugar cane byproducts.

PET is made of 30% mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) and 70% purified terephthalic acid (PTA). The PlantBottle replaces petroleum-based MEG with a plant-based alternative, which doesn't change the recyclability of the PET.

To help fund continued commercialization of the PlantBottle technology and make it more economically viable for all, Coke has collaborated with a number of suppliers - as well as consumer packaged goods (CPG) partners, including Heinz and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

While the Coca-Cola PlantBottle introduction was one of the most impactful developments for the bioplastics industry in recent years, it was not the only one. The Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance is another partnership developed to boost bioplastics development, an area of sustainable packaging that is undergoing a quiet revolution.

But bioplastics are only one alternate material being considered. Dell has been actively looking for and using sustainable alternatives for packaging materials, such as bamboo, wheat straw and mushroom-based packaging. In May 2014, the computer and accessories dynamo touted its new packaging made from air.

Content Tabs


Article

Our mid-year review of what articles are trending shows that sustainable packaging dominates the top-read features, two of which involved Nestlé.

 


Article

Not long ago, refilling packages was something typically associated only with the granola set—picture Birkenstock-clad shoppers lugging their pantry jars to the co-op grocery.


Article

Mayo brand company plans to spread the use of recycled plastic packaging to more than 200 million bottles and jars by 2020 with a goal of 100% recyclable, 100% PCR-content packaging.

 


Article

As the Loop circular-economy ecommerce shopping platform launches in New York—and debuts online in the U.S.


Article

If plastics had its own Facebook page, it would see a lot of Unfriend responses reflective of the ongoing backlash against petrochemical-based polymers in general that’s primarily centered on straws, ocean debris, one-way plas


Article

Global packaged spirits company concentrates on recycling, waste reduction and other sustainable improvements for glass bottles and more.

 


Article

Novolex product lines are seamlessly aligned with the ongoing foodservice packaging shift toward sustainable solutions.

 


Article

Recycled content is quickly catching on as a core part of a company’s overall sustainable packaging strategy—as well as a key strategy in improving and restoring confidence in the recycling system.


Article

The circular economy is on a roll—and using recycled-content material in packages is one way to ensure U.S. recycling businesses will succeed. But reliable sourcing and quality can be a challenge.


Article

Burial, cremation or reincarnation? What choice will you make for your package? How you design your packaging at its birth often determines its fate at the end of its life.


Article

A sustainable-packaging collaboration between Amazon and Replenish has borne fruit in the form of Amazon’s Clean Revolution cleaning products.


Article

Ask anybody what the most pressing issue is in sustainable packaging and you’re likely to receive some variation of the same answer: plastic waste.


Article

Bold sustainable packaging initiatives by Nestlé and TerraCycle that are focused on reusability gained worldwide attention, along with other sustainable developments, from our global audience in February 2019.


Article

Nestlé USA packaging sustainability manager Walt Peterson discusses the pathway to make 100% of the company’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a focus on avoiding plastic waste.

 


Article

Tea producer Harney & Sons has introduced multilayer stand-up pouches for its loose-leaf and herbal-infusion products that are a first for the category.


Our mid-year review of what articles are trending shows that sustainable packaging dominates the top-read features, two of which involved Nestlé.

 

We depart from the regular monthly reviews of the top-read articles to assess the top-...


Not long ago, refilling packages was something typically associated only with the granola set—picture Birkenstock-clad shoppers lugging their pantry jars to the co-op grocery. Today, the practice is going mainstream, with some of the world’s...


Mayo brand company plans to spread the use of recycled plastic packaging to more than 200 million bottles and jars by 2020 with a goal of 100% recyclable, 100% PCR-content packaging.

 

Major food and beverage brands continue an...


As the Loop circular-economy ecommerce shopping platform launches in New York—and debuts online in the U.S. through retailers Walgreens and Kroger—its architect will be stepping on stage at the upcoming EastPack event to convince you of the value...


If plastics had its own Facebook page, it would see a lot of Unfriend responses reflective of the ongoing backlash against petrochemical-based polymers in general that’s primarily centered on straws, ocean debris, one-way plastics and...


Global packaged spirits company concentrates on recycling, waste reduction and other sustainable improvements for glass bottles and more.

 

Formed in 1975 when two French companies merged—Pernod was founded in 1805 and Ricard in 1932—...


Novolex product lines are seamlessly aligned with the ongoing foodservice packaging shift toward sustainable solutions.

 

Consumers’ appetite for foodservice convenience at restaurants of all types—casual, quick-serve and takeaway—and...


Recycled content is quickly catching on as a core part of a company’s overall sustainable packaging strategy—as well as a key strategy in improving and restoring confidence in the recycling system. For brands and suppliers embarking on the...


The circular economy is on a roll—and using recycled-content material in packages is one way to ensure U.S. recycling businesses will succeed. But reliable sourcing and quality can be a challenge. Here are tips from sustainably driven brands Lush...


Burial, cremation or reincarnation? What choice will you make for your package? How you design your packaging at its birth often determines its fate at the end of its life.

Brent Lindberg, founder of design agency...


A sustainable-packaging collaboration between Amazon and Replenish has borne fruit in the form of Amazon’s Clean Revolution cleaning products. Amazon uses the new Replenish 3.0 packaging design for its Clean Revolution line, with Replenish acting...


Ask anybody what the most pressing issue is in sustainable packaging and you’re likely to receive some variation of the same answer: plastic waste. It is undeniable that the current state of affairs revolves around heightened awareness of marine...


Bold sustainable packaging initiatives by Nestlé and TerraCycle that are focused on reusability gained worldwide attention, along with other sustainable developments, from our global audience in February 2019.

Based on page views, here are...


Nestlé USA packaging sustainability manager Walt Peterson discusses the pathway to make 100% of the company’s packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a focus on avoiding plastic waste.

 

2019 has already been a banner year for...


Tea producer Harney & Sons has introduced multilayer stand-up pouches for its loose-leaf and herbal-infusion products that are a first for the category. Created by TC Transcontinental Packaging in collaboration with Dow Chemical and Charter...


The Premier Manufacturer of Molded Pulp Packaging

EnviroPAK is a premier manufacturer of molded pulp packaging for the interior protection of a wide range of products including custom applications for trays, clamshells and end caps. Your...


Every packaging decision hurts or helps our planet.

Felins has a passion for creating alternative sustainable packaging solutions and believes that packaging is fundamentally exciting and environmentally important! We offer non-traditional...


We’re building a world where businesses are leaders for environmental stewardship and products are designed from the start with sustainability in mind.

Our work is business-facing: we focus on design and production, rather than consumption....


Pioneers in the field of packaging and containment, Hedwin was founded in Baltimore in 1946 by Lenox Burkhed and Tom Winstead. Their "Winstead Process" for molten sheet thermoforming was one of the earliest mass-production techniques developed for...


What began in 1989 as a Cargill research project looking for innovative uses of carbohydrates from plants as feedstock for more sustainable plastics has quickly matured into the innovative materials for which we are known today. NatureWorks is an...


Northern Technologies International Corporation is in the business of converting unique environmentally beneficial material science into value added products and services for industrial and consumer applications.

Our business model of...


One Source Recycling is a national provider of integrated resource recovery and waste disposition solutions.  One Source Recycling develops low-cost, transparent solutions to reverse logistics challenges, including management of...


Be at the forefront, pushing the limits, always offer more to our customers is what motivates us every day.

Create eco-friendly products to preserve our forests, this noble and vital resource.

Surpass existing products on the market...


Industry standards are changing to meet the need for environmentally friendly packaging material that does not pollute the environment or use food quality raw material. PaperNuts represents the first true replacement for environmentally...


Whenever you need plastic bag printers, tape printers and suppliers of printed plastic bags, printed tape and associated packaging and shipping materials contact Plus Packaging Inc., who has been an industry leader for over 25 years. We can custom...


Let’s face it: off-spec packaging happens. Production errors, misprinted packaging, and last-minute customer changes are costly, wasteful, and often unavoidable hazards that impact your sustainability objectives and bottom line.

With...


The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) is a project of GreenBlue, a nonprofit that equips business with the science and the resources to make products more sustainable. The SPC is an industry working group dedicated to a more robust...


The Robinette Company began in 1987 but its roots go back to 1938 when Judge Robinette entered the paper bag business serving the flour and corn millers in the eastern United States. He started by printing and converting small paper bags and...

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