For nearly a decade, the biggest buzz in packaging has been the move toward sustainability, or "green" packaging. Driven by retailer requirements, public perception, economic pressures (petroleum, in particular), and government policies, sustainability impacts every aspect of a package-from the source of its raw materials to its end of life-and as such has proven to be an incredibly complex issue.
Begin with the fundamentals
But over the years of debate and discovery, we have learned some core truths about the topic. First, there is no such thing today as a completely sustainable package. Instead, sustainability is a journey. The goal is to make incremental improvements over time in the sustainability of a package to reduce its overall environmental impact.
Second, in sustainability terms, packaging materials—including glass, plastic, paper, and aluminum—cannot be classified as good or bad. Each has its advantages and shortcomings, depending upon the product application and the goals and mission of the packager. Trade—offs are an inherent part of pursuing sustainability.
And last, packaging must be put into perspective by understanding its role in the full product supply chain. Packaging typically makes up less than 10% of the carbon footprint of a product; raw material production and consumer use often comprise the largest proportion. While packaging's footprint may be small, its importance cannot be understated. If the package fails in its primary functions—protecting the product through the supply chain, enticing consumers to purchase, and facilitating consumption—all the energy consumed in manufacturing the product is lost when the product is wasted.
With these fundamentals in mind, following are some areas to consider when implementing changes to your packaging for improved sustainability...