Packaging
Guest article

Recycling? The best way to achieve sustainability?

16-Dec-2013 - By Brian Porter
Brian Porter
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When packaging designers set out to deliver a customer’s wish list - performance and reliability are the chief concerns. But these days, everyone has sustainability, as a packaging objective, at the top of the list. 

A recent article, Design ‘key’ to boosting plastic packaging recycling on LetsRecycle.com, stresses the importance of considering existing recycling standards when designing packaging. 

However, I think it’s important to remember recycling is not the only sustainability goal - in fact, it is the third “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. 

Reducing comes first. It’s pretty obvious that less package means, well, less package. But it can also mean reduced environmental impacts across the life cycle of a product. It can mean reduced energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use, for example. It can mean less spoilage and waste, and longer shelf life, of food products, and less waste from broken or damaged products.

Multilayer films are lightweight and provide excellent barrier protection.

Thinking about the recyclability of a package is great, but designing for this alone can miss significant environmental benefits. Take for example the modernization of tuna packaging. The older-style steel can packaging may be recyclable, but life cycle assessments show the multi-layer film packages that many tuna brands now embrace deliver the same amount of tuna while consuming less energy, and generating less waste and less greenhouse gas emissions.

So it’s about designing for sustainability. Thinking hard about all the ways we can reduce environmental impacts. This isn’t to say package designers aren’t committed to exploring options to utilize the growing recycling infrastructure - at Ernest Packaging we do think about these things every day. But we design for sustainability first, thinking about where we can get the biggest environmental “bang for the buck,” so to speak.  I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think about industry expectations for sustainability and how do you respond to those goals?

Brian Porter is VP and head of consulting at Ernest Packaging, Los Angeles, US.

Related topics: Packaging, Packaging Technology, Europe