Environmentally Friendly Packaging
Taking a holistic view of your packaging and supply chain to ensure true sustainability
Even before the popularity of Blue Planet and its focus ocean pollution, it was common for the packaging industry and the products themselves to get a bad press.
Non-recyclable materials. Too much single use plastic. Excessive use of materials and resources. Landfill. Harm to marine and other environments. The list goes on and on.
But packaging plays a crucial role in modern life. And, as a responsible packaging supplier, GWP aim to present you with the facts and an honest, balanced point of view in this guide and its related articles.
This in turn allows you to make an informed decision on the most suitable packaging option for your business, your customers, and the wider environment.
Sustainable packaging materials / products
Wal Mart – one of the biggest users of packaging worldwide – is credited with proposing the 7 R’s of sustainable packaging (first showcasing them at Pack Expo 2006).
These are Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, Revenue, and Read.
However, the three which have been widely adopted are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. These are the options that GWP Group can offer your business.
Please see below for further details, or click through for further information on your preferred solution.
Corrugated cardboard products
Corrugated cardboard packaging is rightly regarded as environmentally friendly. It has well established recycling streams, uses biodegradable materials and offers excellent performance within transit. Find out how this can benefit your business y clicking below.
Plastic / Multi-trip
Reusable plastic packaging can often be the most sustainable option. This can be by minimising damage, reducing raw material use, prolonged lifespan, and even less carbon emissions through efficient transit. See if this is applicable to your business here.
Inventory / material savings
The final option GWP can offer your business is packaging reduction. This could be through rationalisation of products, engineering out material without compromising performance, and ultimately taking a holistic view of your company’s packaging.
Sustainable Packaging Definition
What is really meant by sustainability?
An average consumer in the western world will handle more than 50 packaged products / items every day. And this is one of the driving factors making everyone more aware of their ecological footprint – packaging is now so prevalent in every part of our lives.
This is why there is now such a focus on – and drive towards – sustainable packaging.
But what is it that makes packaging sustainable? Are the claims of global brands, packaging manufacturers and environmental campaigners (which often contradict each other) actually true?
So, before highlighting the types of sustainable packaging that may be applicable to your business and operations, it is important first to identify exactly what is meant by sustainable packaging.
“Sustainable packaging is the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. This involves increased use of life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle assessment to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint. “
The key point to take away from this neat summary is “packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint”
This includes looking at the bigger picture – effectively the entire lifecycle of your packaging – including use in the supply chain, basic function, marketing, usefulness to consumer and what happens at the end of the packaging’s life.
Another definition addresses what are termed the three common pillars of sustainability: Social (people), Environmental (planet) and Economic (profit).
Effectively, “sustainable packaging must meet the functional and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Different types of sustainability?
But what does this really mean?
Well, sustainability can mean different things to different people. To many, the common forms of sustainability (or at least those recognised by consumers) are recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging.
Whilst these are all valid forms of sustainable packaging, it is also possible to justify the use of returnable and reusable packaging – largely made out of plastics – as sustainable too.
This can be through their reuse minimising the overall volumes of packaging required, minimising damage (and the environmental impact of remanufacturing and damaged products going to landfill) and even reduced bulk / volume and weight, minimising carbon from increased transit.
In essence, there are numerous ways packaging can be made more sustainable through substantially reducing environmental impact and the overall ecological footprint.
Tangible business benefits of utilising sustainable packaging
Even knowing the options available to your business, there may still be some inertia with regards to switching to truly sustainable packaging. Common fears surround performance, costs, availability and compatibility with existing processes and systems.
However, there are a number of significant benefits of switching to sustainable packaging.
Summary of business advantages
- Improved brand and consumer perception (potential for increased sales)
- Opportunity for unique brand positioning in specific markets
- Potential for increased sales amongst certain demographics
- Enhanced customer satisfaction through easier disposal / recycling of packaging
- Cost reductions through minimised material usage
- Reduced costs through increased lifespan / longevity (e.g. returnable containers in supply chain)
- Reducing your organisation’s carbon footprint
- Potential reduction in transit costs through minimised materials / volume
- Possible savings in storage and warehouse requirement (dependent on materials used)
Types of Eco Packaging
What type of packaging is environmentally friendly?
Despite definitions of sustainable packaging being easily available, there is still a lot of common misperception and myths surrounding what makes packaging environmentally friendly.
As such, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) has spent considerable time and resource setting out their proposal of what makes environmentally friendly packaging.
The results of their work suggest that sustainable, eco-friendly packaging should adhere to the following points.
What makes sustainable packaging
- Packaging is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals / communities throughout life cycle
- The packaging meets market criteria for both performance and cost
- It is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
- It incorporates and optimizes (where possible) the use of renewable or recycled source materials
- The packaging is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices (e.g. ISO)
- Is made from materials that are healthy in all possible end of life scenarios
- It can be effectively recovered and utilized in biological and /or industrial closed loop cycles
- Has a physical design that optimises materials and energy
So how does this apply to what the media are pushing as environmentally friendly packaging?
Biodegradable plastics are one of the most highlighted areas that could help with the current reliance on single use plastic packaging.
Also referred to as oxo-degradable plastics, they are beginning to be produced and sold in many countries, with society being led to believe they safely biodegrade in nature.
Yet significant evidence suggests oxo-degradable plastics do not safely biodegrade unless very specific atmospheric conditions are met (meaning they would not degrade in typical marine environments), and even when they do, they fragment into small pieces. This contributes to micro plastics pollution.
Besides this, current biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled, as other plastics can.
As a result, many organisations including the WWF and Greenpeace do not endorse the use of the (current) forms of biodegradable packaging.
Bio Based Plastics
On the surface, bio based plastics also seem like a useful solution to the problems surrounding reliance on carbon based materials.
However, from a sustainability point of view, there are still issues that could cause longer term environmental impacts.
Bio-based plastics or bioplastics typically use food crops such as corn or sugarcane in their production. Initially this may seem very attractive, but some reports suggest that a significant upturn in demand for bioplastics (and biofuel) could potentially divert foods from the human food chain causing shortages and / or massive price increases.
There is in fact a need to grow more crops for food, rather than, less to meet the needs of an ever growing population.
Other impacts can include deforestation for farming, greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture (fuel, machinery, transport of crops etc.) as well as increased fertiliser / pesticide use having an impact on the environment too.
Corrugated cardboard / paper based packaging
Corrugated cardboard and other forms of paper based packaging are rightly regarded as being amongst the most environmentally friendly and sustainable.
It is biodegradable if it does end up in landfill, can be easily recycled by end users, and the raw material is carefully managed (in fact it is estimated that there are more trees in the world today than there were 100 years ago). Besides this, the perception of cardboard packaging can be key in brand positioning and consumer perception.
And whilst corrugated packaging can be engineered to provide exceptional strength and performance, it has limitations in certain applications.
For example, it is not suitable for use in preserving food products, or for wet or oily products. There are also times when, due to a products’ fragility, cardboard alone will not be suitable to provide the required level of protection (which in turn will lead to more damaged products – and increased need for re-manufacture and items being sent to landfill).
Besides this, all paper used in packaging is technically down-cycled, not recycled meaning that after initial use and processing the material and fibres become weaker. This then creates a requirement for virgin paper (paper that comes directly from trees) to be added to create material / packaging of sufficient strength.
Despite all of this, corrugated / paper packaging – effectively a genuine form of recyclable packaging – is a genuinely environmentally friendly choice for your business.
Despite getting a bad press, plastic packaging can be sustainable.
Whilst there is little argument in terms of the need to reduce the prevalence of single use plastics (or to at the very least increase recycling of this material), when used in closed loop returnable packaging systems, plastic can be very effective in reducing environmental impact.
For example, tote bins and containers that are used as part of a supply chain (automotive being a good example) actually lessens the impact on the environment through their prolonged lifespan, and the energy costs that go towards making the additional expendable (i.e. single use corrugated) that would be required instead.
Another element is the minimisation of product damage during transit (if using protective foams etc.) as the environmental cost of re-manufacturing products and sending damaged ones to landfill outweighs the environmental impact of the packaging itself.
Plastic packaging can also be lighter and with less volume than other packaging, minimising transit costs and in turn carbon emissions.
End of life disposal / recycling is an ongoing issue however, as is the fact that plastic production places ever more strain on finite oil reserves, it does not biodegrade and is still frequently sent to landfill.
So what packaging do you choose?
The bottom line?
It is important to take holistic view of the environmental impacts of your packaging.
What the packaging solution does is far more important and far more significant compared to those of what the packaging material is.
By doing this, it is possible to choose a packaging material that is sustainable when taken in the context of your application, business needs, consumer demands and the environment.
And if you are struggling to weigh up the costs and benefits of each form of packaging, an experienced engineer from GWP will be more than happy to help. Click here to get in touch.
Consumer behaviour and demand for packaging sustainability
And whilst many businesses’ “environmental credentials” can often be little more than a marketing tactic (part of the reason why there are so many different recycling symbols on packaging), there are a number of facts and figures from research showing the impact this can have on sales and brand perception.
Taking this into account, if your business takes a proactive stance on moving to sustainable packaging, it can provide you with a competitive advantage and even open potential new target consumers / markets.
For many businesses, it makes economic and environmental sense to become truly sustainable.
Regardless of how sustainable a pack really is, there is strong evidence to support a general shift in consumer behaviour and demand for sustainable packaging.
Statistics: Consumers and sustainable packaging
- 51% of Millennials will check packaging before purchase for sustainability claims
- 70% of all consumers are likely to be influenced by environmentally friendly packaging
- 39% of consumers always / often look for environmental information on beverage packaging
- 70% of consumers have purchased an environmentally friendly product even when it cost more
- 66% of consumers have avoided a particular product and / or brand for environmental reasons
Background & History
Why and how packaging impact became important
Sustainability in packaging can be originally traced back to the environmental movement of the 1970s. However, at this stage the focus was on pollution and littering (including the iconic Crying Indian anti-litter commercial produced as part of the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign).
Packaging however became more of a specific focus in the 1980s when the “Garbage Barge” became a media sensation – with the waste from Long Island residents being rejected at a number of landfill sites before eventually being incinerated.
What this did was to raise awareness of just how much waste the average person was producing – and how large a proportion of this was packaging.
This in turn led to a sustained effort to reduce and minimise the volume of waste. This was partly through increasing recycling rates of used packaging, but also by establishing an economically viable infrastructure for various packaging materials. Saying that, this remains a work in progress even today.
The term “sustainability” was only really adopted by the packaging industry as late as 2006.
Coined by Andrew Savitz after publication of “The Triple Bottom Line: How Today’s Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success – and How You Can Too”, the book details the move towards to sustainability within businesses and how and why financial success is increasingly viewed as going hand in hand with social and environmental achievement.
This wider viewpoint builds on the previous environmental only outlook, to include both economic and social criteria, including ethical sourcing or material and even manufacturing conditions.
As a result, sustainable packaging is no longer just about recycling. Packing is frequently scrutinized and used as the measure of a business’ overall sustainability, despite the fact it may not contribute anywhere near the environmental impact of other activities such as transportation or water and energy use.
So whilst the idea of looking at the lifecycle of packaging – from raw materials all the way through disposal – has become more commonplace over the last decade, much of the focus remains on end-of-life.
Commonly asked questions about sustainable packaging
Think that your business’ packaging needs to be more sustainable? Have some questions though? No problem!
The below section covers the most commonly asked questions regarding sustainable packaging but, if you still cannot find the answers you need, please contact a GWP team member for assistance.
What is meant by sustainable packaging?
A widely sharded definition of sustainable packaging is that “Sustainable packaging is the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. This involves increased use of life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle assessment to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint.”
Are there different types of sustainable packaging?
Although the typical assumption is that recyclable and or biodegradable packaging such as corrugated cardboard are the most sustainable, it is possible for reusable containers (such a Correx® totes) to be sustainable too. This is because, through reuse, they can minimise the amount of materials / emissions generated.
What are the 7 “R”s?
Although the 3 “R”s are more commonly known – reduce, reuse, recycle – Wal Mart (which is one of the biggest users of packaging worldwide) has actually defined 7 “R”s for sustainable packaging. These are Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, Revenue, and Read.
Why should my business care about sustainable packaging?
There are a number of reasons why your business should be (or consider) using sustainable packaging. Perhaps most obviously it improves consumer perception (and is even being demanded by certain demographics), but besides this it can actually help to reduce costs (through efficiency transit, less material usage etc.).
What are bio-based plastics?
Whilst bio-based plastics are seen viewed as being more sustainable than these manufactured in a traditional manner – being formulated from organic plant material – these can have a number of unconsidered impacts. This includes over farming, deforestation, soil erosion, increased use of pesticides and diverting food crops away from the human food chain.
Can GWP help my business with sustainable packaging?
With more than 30 years’ experience, GWP are able to assist your business in making your packaging more sustainable (and cost effective too). With expertise across recyclable, reusable and even packaging reduction strategies, we are perfectly placed t offer your business truly impartial advice on the best option for your business.
Sustainable Packaging Companies
What GWP can do to help your business be more sustainable
As packaging manufacturers at GWP Group, we understand the responsibility we have to the environment.
As such, we are proud to demonstrate a proven track record in providing the most environmentally responsible solutions. Crucially however, this is based not on current trends and media agendas, but through more than 25 years of experience and knowledge on what the best solution for your specific application will be.
This can take the form of engineering corrugated cardboard boxes to eliminate plastics and polystyrene and other void fill. But, it can equally be creating a long lasting, reusable supply chain solution from plastic. Or eliminating high volumes of damaged items (and the environmental impact this has) through bespoke foam inserts.
In other words, you can rely on GWP to identify, design and manufacture the most sustainable and eco-friendly packaging relative to your specific business requirements.
Saying that, we design and manufacture using recycled packaging materials wherever possible and always follow stringent, environmentally friendly processes.
Besides this, we work to ISO 14001 accredited environmental management standards and, on a more practical level, have installed automatic waste collection throughout our manufacturing processes.
Ultimately, we take pride in offering an environmental advantage to each and every one of our customers.
If you would like advice on how your business can use its’ packaging to become more sustainable, please contact us today for an impartial, no obligation discussion.
Find Out More
Get advice from a sustainable packaging specialist
If you don’t know where to start with making your packaging more sustainable, know what you need but are looking for a design or manufacturing partner, or just have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at GWP.