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Insights for less packaging

Bob Lilienfeld, who heads, has championed source reduction as the key to packaging sustainability for more than a decade.

Pw 8982 Bob Lilienfeld R

PW: How does the amount of packaging today compare to 10 to 15 years ago?

Lilienfeld: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of packaging has not really been reduced. Between 1990 and 2005, packaging generated in the U.S. has increased from 64.5 to 76.7 million tons, and has remained at approximately 31% of all waste generated. The good news is during this time period the amount of packaging that’s being discarded has been reduced slightly, dropping from 47.8 to 46.2 million tons, due largely to recycling efforts.

PW: What is packaging’s role in the waste stream?

Lilienfeld: Packaging waste is the single biggest component of solid waste heading to our landfills. This is why consumers and the media are upset by it. In reality, our major environmental problems are not caused by packaging waste, but rather by the material and energy usage related to both the packaging and the products it protects. Once it’s in the ground, it’s benign. It’s what happens before it gets into the ground that’s important.

PW: What trends concern you?

Lilienfeld: I see two trends that fly in the face of reduced packaging. The first is the single-serving phenomenon, which has the potential to significantly increase packaging discards. The problem is that everyone in the supply chain loves it.

The second trend is a related one, and started in the club stores, like Costco and Sam’s, but is now appearing in Kroger and Target as well. It relates to bulk purchasing, which is about saving money. Buying in bulk used to mean buying larger sizes. Today, it means buying more in smaller sizes and having them bundled together, and that also means more discarded packaging.

PW: Does the problem of overpackaging rest more with marketers and consumer packaged goods companies or with consumers’ demands?

Lilienfeld: It’s a never-ending cycle. Consumers want convenience and value. Marketers, consumer packaged goods companies, and even converters are trying to provide it to them or to stay one step ahead of them.

PW: Is any solution possible?

Lilienfeld: The primary solution from my perspective is simply to design and use packaging that minimizes weight. Doing so obviously reduces materials usage, but at least as importantly, it reduces production, transportation, and storage energy usage throughout the supply chain. My motto is simple: Light makes right.


(For the complete interview, see

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