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Sustainability for packaging becomes a global endeavor

Over the past year, a diverse set of companies and stakeholders from the U.S. and European Union have come together to work on developing a common language and metrics related to sustainability and packaging under the Global Packaging Project, an initiative of the Consumer Goods Forum. In addition, we have seen participants from across the globe come together for an ISO standards setting process on packaging and the environment.

In June, the World Packaging Organization held a conference in Beijing, and sustainability for packaging was one of the trends discussed. Sustainability for packaging is definitely going global-and not just in regions with high levels of social consciousness about the environment.

In May, I attended the sustainable packaging conference Envase Sostenible in Bogota, Colombia. The conference was focused on environmental sustainability with a very distinctive Latin flair. Many of the topics were similar to other sustainable packaging conferences, but the information presented strongly reflected the distinctiveness of the region. Colombia is a country of roughly 45 million people and it enjoys astoundingly abundant natural resources from mineral wealth to biological diversity.

During the course of the conference, I learned that there are more than five cities in Colombia with populations that exceed 1 million but only two managed landfills in the country. Typical waste management was described by one speaker as an open pit that is periodically burned. I also learned that like some other Latin American countries, despite very high levels of education and literacy, unemployment is a major problem in Colombia. 

The level of interest in sustainability at the conference was very high, but it was also clear that the conversation is in its infancy and sustainability priorities in Latin America will be quite different than those in the U.S. or the E.U.
For instance, it is unlikely that controlling carbon emissions is going to be a high priority in a country that is 45 percent forested and 80 percent powered by hydroelectricity. In contrast, issues around waste management, recycling, litter and plastic debris are high priorities and are being addressed in a myriad of regulatory initiatives across Latin America. 

One nonprofit organization that is taking up the challenge of encouraging more integrated waste management in the urban centers of Latin America is the Brazilian Business Commitment for Recycling, known as CEMPRE.
Its mission is to promote integrated waste management, recycling and environmental education related to the three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). 

One of their approaches is to support the creation of cooperatives for "waste scavengers", informal waste collectors who collect and resell recyclables as a principle source of income. Championed by many global companies, CEMPRE is striving to address the combined needs of better waste management and economic opportunity while at the same time building infrastructure for recycling. Building on its successes in Brazil, CEMPRE has recently expanded the model to Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, China, Thailand and Russia.
The organization's work is still in its infancy in Colombia, but inspiring examples from Brazil were presented at the conference. One lesson is clear, while we strive for standards at a global level, we need to be mindful that priorities for sustainable development are driven at the local level and what we consider "sustainable" in one market may not meet the standard in another.


COMPASS 2.0 released
In news from the SPC, we are proud to announce the release of version 2.0 of the COMPASS design software. The SPC has collaborated with several members of the COMPASS user community to implement additional features in this round of development. 

COMPASS is a tool to help packaging designers make more informed material selections and design decisions by providing quick visual guidance on a common set of environmental factors. The program assesses packages on resource consumption, emissions and packaging attributes such as material health, recycled or virgin content, sourcing and solid waste.

In this new version, COMPASS employs enhancements to the user interface that are designed to improve the workflow and performance of the application. Users will also be able to assess multi-pack packaging scenarios, compare refill options and account for transportation associated with the distribution of packaging and packaged products. 

Later this year, COMPASS will be further updated with life cycle inventory data for additional materials. Since its release in 2009, COMPASS has been adopted globally by Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson and is now used by more than 80 packaging and consumer products companies. UPS also announced that it would use COMPASS to provide customers an environmental profile of their shipment packaging.

Academic institutions Michigan State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology also are using COMPASS in their packaging curriculum.

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