An increasing number of people, particularly end-users, are realizing the importance of sustainable packaging. But there are challenges, particularly for packaging designers.
Five of the most common problems for sustainable packaging are:
- It tends to be expensive.
- It is regulated but there are no standardized rules throughout the states.
- Complicated instructions often reduce the likelihood of recycling.
- Some packaging cannot be recycled at all.
- The carbon footprint of packaging processes is difficult to track.
Nevertheless there are solutions for these problems.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
Often described as “green” packaging, sustainable packaging is eco-friendly because it’s production and life cycle has a reduced environmental impact and ecological footprint. In practical terms, it uses more recycled materials and reuses more package components than regular packaging would do.
While there are no standardized rules either nationally or internationally, it is accepted that three Rs are paramount to make packaging sustainable. These are:
For this reason the focus has been to minimize packaging waste by recycling and reduction, so that natural resources are conserved and both landfill and litter will be reduced.
Overcoming Problems and Finding Solutions for Sustainable Packaging
Producing eco-friendly packaging can be expensive, and it’s important that customers are educated and realize what costs are involved before designers work on a project to ensure it is “green.” Undoubtedly some customers will be prepared to absorb the extra expense, some may not be.
How sustainable is sustainable packaging?
In reality it’s a relative term, and sometimes it’s necessary to compromise, for instance by using some (but not all) post-consumer waste, or incorporating some non-recyclable elements in packaging. If it looks good and is more eco-friendly than packaging that lands up in landfill, you’ve got a solution, if not a perfect one.
There are a number of regulations that relate to sustainable packaging, but these vary from state to state. For this reason it is vital to ensure that methods and materials comply with state requirements in your area.
The regulations in California are particularly strict and provide a good benchmark.
For recycling efforts to be effective, the process must be as simple as possible for consumers, especially if not all packaging parts can be processed. Sustainable packaging designers need to realize this, and keep printed instructions for recycling or reuse of packaging as short, clear and simple as possible.
- Recycling Challenges
It isn’t just the materials used for packaging that matter. Certain additional processes like hot stamps and laminations can lead to packaging being unrecyclable – because of the metal in hot stamps, and the plastics that laminate coatings use that cannot be dissolved in water.
The solution to this recycling challenge is to find eco-friendly alternatives like graphics or color that can be used to portray a strong brand message.
- Carbon Footprint
This is one of the least understood concepts for many people, especially since the packaging process from mills to retail shelves is a long one. At every point there are sustainability issues, and designers need to address as many of them as possible.
It’s certainly an enormous challenge, but one that responsible packaging companies like Technik are embracing.