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Sustainable Packaging TODAY: Answers to Industry's Most Common Eco-Friendly Questions

Greenwashing, chemical recycling, and how to pick most sustainable packaging material for your product—all explained by U.K. sustainable packaging expert Paul Jenkins of the PackHub and Packaging World’s Matt Reynolds.

Want to view the rest of this pertinent conversation? Find the full free video here: Sustainable Packaging TODAY — Full Webinar

Listen to the story here:


   Read the transcript below:

Matt Reynolds: Hello and welcome to today's webinar. I'm Matt Reynolds editor of Packaging World Magazine and I'm here with Paul Jenkins, Managing Director of the PackHub.  

We have a few questions that are basically questions that Paul and I get every time we do one of these types of presentations. And the first one is it's the "G word". And that's greenwashing. So the question is, do you think greenwashing in the packaging industry is on the rise? 

Paul Jenkins: It certainly feels that way. And you've just got to go on LinkedIn and see lots of lots of examples of of challenges and counter challenges from various different packaging executions. With the increase in sustainable packaging, it's inevitably there'll be an increase in the amount of potential greenwashing that is going on. And one of the challenges is that sustainability isn't an exact science. It's all about getting the right packaging for the right application. So it's about understanding, you know, doing things properly in terms of lifecycle analysis, and really doing the research to justify the changes. And what I've been really encouraged with over the last 18 months or so, is the amount of supporting data we're now seeing with with packaging changes. Three or four years ago, people would create a new paper pack and say "paper packaging is better than plastic" without really supporting/giving consumers a reason why it has changed. So, certainly greenwashing seems to be on the increase. But I think that's partly because there's just so much going on now. And as I sai, it's not an exact science, and you can claim and counterclaim on various various different things, but it's certainly a challenge. And it's certainly something that needs to be kept a very close eye on.

Matt ReynoldsYeah, and there's some level of accountability. There are a couple of watchdog groups that are currently ranking bigger brands for how well they're living up to their goals. So it's a matter of accountability. And it sounds like you're right, Paul, as long as there's a rationale. And there's a reason for moving from plastic to aluminum or plastic to paperboard. And it's not done in a somewhat cynical point of view of because more consumer will sell more units this way. But rather, there is a real sustainability or eco minded underpinning to that action. 

So, yes, we're seeing more examples of what could be potentially perceived as greenwashing. But Paul, it's just because the space is flooded with sustainability now, and it's hard to pick one from next. 

So moving along, we always get the questions in every presentation that Paul or I do, you know, what's the best? What's the most sustainable application or most sustainable material to be in? And the answer is, there is no answer. It's entirely up to your application. Are you in liquid? Are you in liquid that's fairly viscous? Are you in liquid that's carbonated? You know, is it something that's shelf stable for five years or shelf stable for a week? All of that calculus happens with an imaginable number of variables. 

You mentioned lifecycle analysis, that's really important, but there is no one single algorithm out there that accounts for every single variable in consumer packaged goods to optimize for that specific package. Getting back to the the greenwashing point, David Smith is on our editorial advisory board of Packaging World, and he told the story that at his consulting work, he had a brand come to him and the brand, I believe was some sort of meat or fish that was in a tin can we call it tin cans, really steel cans, and this person came to this consultant saying, you know, this is my legacy packaging, how do I become more sustainable? And, you know, be perceived as more sustainable for my consumer? The answer was he was about as optimized as he could have been for his application because steel is recyclable. For that format, people know to recycle that—even in the US. So, you know, sometimes the answer isn't always distance, sometimes it could be on your doorstep. There's no silver bullet at this point. You know, it's just a matter of the application and fit finding the best materials for your application. Paul, do you have any anything to add to that?

Paul Jenkins: I totally agree with what you're saying. It depends on what you're trying to achieve as well. So if your your strategy is to reduce carbon footprint at all costs, then you will go down a certain route, if it is a plastic reduction strategy, you will go down a different route. So you know, the point you make about the there's no one right answer, you know, often depends on what you're actually trying to achieve in the first place.

Matt ReynoldsGood, good. Yeah, that's a good addition, I was thinking about the material in the bottle. But it's also what the what the stated goal of the brand is, and a lot of that goes to their sustainability goals that again, wrapped into that 2025 deadline that you've mentioned a few times. 

And one last question we get from time to time—I would say increasingly lately—is how does advanced or chemical recycling fit into the conversation. And advanced or chemical recycling are methodologies with many varied mathods, with some popular and some is not as popular. But a common one would be combustion, or heating, any and all waste, not just plastic waste, heating any and all of these waste into the smallest material. I guess it would be the molecular level down to the smallest molecular level for plastic, and it would be a polymer to the smallest polymers to then be able to rebuild that material to whatever you want it to be. And it does seem like it has the trappings of a silver bullet in the future, it could be an answer. Like I said, it's not just a combustion model, there's cold versions of this high pressure versions of advanced or chemical recycling that really could take any and all waste, and create a situation where you're molecularly rebuilding that into whatever you want it to be PET, PE, or PP—all coming from the same string. Problem is we don't have the infrastructure for that. Today, we don't have the volume capability to do that. So this is going to be a long term thing, it's going to be a governmental, and it's going to be something that all of the United States, all of the world is going to have to be on board. And that might be distant. That might not be available tomorrow, or next year, or five years from now, but there's a lot of good companies that are working on it right now. But in the meantime, there's no reason to stop your sustainability efforts, thinking that there might be a silver bullet down down the road in the future. Paul, anything to add on that? 

Paul Jenkins: No, again, an excellent answer to the question that I just think, you know, chemical recycling, we are tracking it as part of our Innovation Zone packaging platform. But you know, this webinar is called sustainable packaging today. So that's about really utilizing the infrastructure and the systems that we've currently got in place to move forward. Now. Today. So the chemical recycling will require a step change in processes, which may or may not come down the line. So you can't rely on that potential silver bullet, as you said, some point it may not happen. So in terms of recycling, the opportunities are already out there and ready to be exploited.

Matt ReynoldsGood. And that puts a bow on everything that brings us to the conclusion of the webinar all the time that we have. Naturally, If you'd like to learn anything more about what we've discussed or like to discuss more with us, visit the websites that you see on your screen right now. Use the email addresses to contact Paul or I. That's all the time that we have for today. 

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