Sustainable packaging

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Molded pulp uses recycled newsprint to form package components. Here, researchers are molding packaging from straw Molding packaging from straw, k9837-1.jpg
Molded pulp uses recycled newsprint to form package components. Here, researchers are molding packaging from straw

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 (LCA) [2] [3] to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint. It includes a look at the whole of the supply chain: from basic function, to marketing, and then through to end of life (LCA) and rebirth. [4] Additionally, an eco-cost to value ratio can be useful [5] The goals are to improve the long term viability and quality of life for humans and the longevity of natural ecosystems. Sustainable packaging must meet the functional and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. [6] Sustainability is not necessarily an end state but is a continuing process of improvement. [7]

Contents

Sustainable packaging is a relatively new addition to the environmental considerations for packaging (see Packaging and labeling). It requires more analysis and documentation to look at the package design, choice of materials, processing, and life-cycle. This is not just the vague "green movement" that many businesses and companies have been trying to include over the past years. Companies implementing eco-friendly actions are reducing their carbon footprint, using more recycled materials and reusing more package components. [8] They often encourage suppliers, contract packagers, and distributors to do likewise.

For example, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service are looking into using dairy-based films as an alternative to petroleum-based packaging. Instead of being made of synthetic polymers, these dairy-based films would be composed of proteins such as casein and whey, which are found in milk. The films would be biodegradable and offer better oxygen barriers than synthetic, chemical-based films. More research must be done to improve the water barrier quality of the dairy-based film, but advances in sustainable packaging are actively being pursued. [9]

Environmental marketing claims on packages need to be made (and read) with caution. Ambiguous greenwashing titles such as green packaging and environmentally friendly can be confusing without specific definition. Some regulators, such as the US Federal Trade Commission, are providing guidance to packagers [10]

Companies have long been reusing and recycling packaging when economically viable. Using minimal packaging has also been a common goal to help reduce costs. Recent years have accelerated these efforts based on social movements, consumer pressure, and regulation. All phases of packaging, distribution, and logistics are included. [11]

Sustainable packaging is no longer focused on just recycling. Just as packaging is not the only eco target, although it is still top of mind for many. Right or wrong, packaging is frequently scrutinized and used as the measure of a company's overall sustainability, even though it may contribute only a small percentage to the total eco impact compared to other things, such as transportation, and water and energy use.

Criteria

The criteria for ranking and comparing packaging based on their sustainability is an active area of development. General guidance, metrics, checklists, and scorecards are being published by several groups.

Government, [12] standards organizations, consumers, retailers, [13] and packagers are considering several types of criteria. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Each organization words the goals and targets a little differently. In general, the broad goals of sustainable packaging are:

  1. Functional [18] – product protection, safety, regulatory compliance, etc.
  2. Cost effective – if it is too expensive, it is unlikely to be used
  3. Support long-term human and ecological health

Specific factors for sustainable design of packaging may include:

The chosen criteria are often used best as a basis of comparison for two or more similar packaging designs; not as an absolute success or failure. Such a multi-variable comparison is often presented as a radar chart (spider chart, star chart, etc.). [24]

Benefits

Some aspects of environmentally sound packaging are required by regulators while others are decisions made by individual packagers. Investors, employees, management, and customers can influence corporate decisions and help set policies. When investors seek to purchase stock, companies known for their positive environmental policy can be attractive. [25] Potential stockholders and investors see this as a solid decision: lower environmental risks lead to more capital at cheaper rates. Companies that highlight their environmental status to consumers can boost sales as well as product reputation. Going green is often a sound investment that can pay off. [26]

Costs

The process of engineering more environmentally acceptable packages can include consideration of the costs. [27] Some companies claim that their environmental packaging program is cost effective. [28] Some alternative materials that are recycled/recyclable and/or less damaging to the environment can lead to companies incurring increased costs. Though this is common when any product begins to carry the true cost of its production (producer pays, producer responsibility laws, take-back laws). There may be an expensive and lengthy process before the new forms of packaging are deemed safe to the public, and approval may take up to two years. [29] It is important to note here, that for most of the developed world, tightening legislation, and changes in major retailer demand (Walmart's Sustainable Packaging Scorecard for example) the question is no longer "if" products and packaging should become more sustainable, but how-to and how-soon to do it. [4]

Criticism

Efforts toward “greener” packaging are supported in the sustainability community; however, these are often viewed only as incremental steps and not as an end. Some people foresee a true sustainable steady state economy that may be very different from today's: greatly reduced energy usage, minimal ecological footprint, fewer consumer packaged goods, local purchasing with short food supply chains, little processed foods, etc. [30] [31] [32] Less packaging would be needed in a sustainable carbon neutral economy, which means that fewer packaging options would exist and simpler packaging forms may be necessary. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

Sustainable living describes a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources, and one's personal resources. It is often called as "earth harmony living" or "net zero living". Its practitioners often attempt to reduce their ecological footprint by altering their methods of transportation, energy consumption, and/or diet. Its proponents aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, naturally balanced, and respectful of humanity's symbiotic relationship with the Earth's natural ecology. The practice and general philosophy of ecological living closely follows the overall principles of sustainable development.

Life-cycle assessment technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a products life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling

Life-cycle assessment or life cycle assessment is a methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life-cycle of a commercial product, process, or service. For instance, in the case of a manufactured product, environmental impacts are assessed from raw material extraction and processing (cradle), through the product's manufacture, distribution and use, to the recycling or final disposal of the materials composing it (grave).

Extended producer responsibility strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods

In the field of waste management, extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a strategy to add all of the environmental costs associated with a product throughout the product life cycle to the market price of that product. Extended producer responsibility legislation is a driving force behind the adoption of remanufacturing initiatives because it "focuses on the end-of-use treatment of consumer products and has the primary aim to increase the amount and degree of product recovery and to minimize the environmental impact of waste materials".

Zero waste philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused

Zero Waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. Currently, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled. In a zero waste system, material will be reused until the optimum level of consumption. The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:

Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.

Green building architecture designed to minimize environmental and resource impact

Green building refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. This requires close cooperation of the contractor, the architects, the engineers, and the client at all project stages. The Green Building practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.. In doing so, the three dimensions of sustainability, i.e., planet, people and profit across the entire supply chain need to be considered.

Plastic shopping bag Type of shopping bag

Plastic shopping bags, carrier bags, or plastic grocery bags are a type of plastic bag used as shopping bags and made from various kinds of plastic. In use by consumers worldwide since the 1960s, these bags are sometimes called single-use bags, referring to carrying items from a store to a home. However, reuse for storage or trash is common, and modern plastic shopping bags are increasingly recyclable or biodegradable. In recent decades, numerous countries have introduced legislation restricting the sale of plastic bags, in a bid to reduce littering and plastic pollution.

Plastic bag Type of container made of thin, flexible, plastic film, nonwoven fabric, or plastic textile

A plastic bag, poly bag, or pouch is a type of container made of thin, flexible, plastic film, Nonwoven fabric, or plastic textile. Plastic bags are used for containing and transporting goods such as foods, produce, powders, ice, magazines, chemicals, and waste. It is a common form of packaging.

Sustainable cities, urban sustainability, or eco-city is a city designed with consideration for social, economic, environmental impact, and resilient habitat for existing populations, without compromising the ability of future generations to experience the same. These cities are inhabited by people whom are dedicated towards minimizing required inputs of energy, water, food, waste, output of heat, air pollution - CO
2
, methane, and water pollution. Richard Register first coined the term "ecocity" in his 1987 book Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future, where he offers innovative city planning solutions that would work anywhere. Other leading figures who envisioned the sustainable city are architect Paul F Downton, who later founded the company Ecopolis Pty Ltd, as well as authors Timothy Beatley and Steffen Lehmann, who have written extensively on the subject. The field of industrial ecology is sometimes used in planning these cities.

Biodegradable plastic Plastics that can be decomposed by the action of living organisms

Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be decomposed by the action of living organisms, usually microbes, into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. Biodegradable plastics are commonly produced with renewable raw materials, micro-organisms, petrochemicals, or combinations of all three.

Design for the Environment (DfE) is a design approach to reduce the overall human health and environmental impact of a product, process or service, where impacts are considered across its life cycle. Different software tools have been developed to assist designers in finding optimized products or processes/services. DfE is also the original name of a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program, created in 1992, that works to prevent pollution, and the risk pollution presents to humans and the environment. The program provides information regarding safer chemical formulations for cleaning and other products. EPA renamed its program "Safer Choice" in 2015.

Upcycling Recycling waste into products of higher quality

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality and environmental value.

Recyclebank is a company based in New York City that claims to encourage recycling and environmentally-friendly habits. Recyclebank claims to bring together people, businesses, and communities to achieve real world impact by participating in household recycling and teaching how to live more sustainable lifestyles. Over 2 million people have signed up through Recyclebank's rewards program, which offers magazine subscriptions and discounts among other goods. Recyclebank’s online shop, OneTwine.com claims to enable members to make more green choices when purchasing products. A Certified B Corporation, Recyclebank is headquartered in New York City.

Ecological design or ecodesign is an approach to designing products with special consideration for the environmental impacts of the product during its whole lifecycle. It was defined by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan as "any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes." Ecological design is an integrative ecologically responsible design discipline. Ecological design can also be posited as the process within design and development of integration environmental consideration into product design and development with the aim of reducing environmental impacts of products through their life cycle.

This page is an index of sustainability articles.

Sustainable flooring

Sustainable flooring is produced from sustainable materials that reduces demands on ecosystems during its life-cycle. This includes harvest, production, use and disposal. It is thought that sustainable flooring creates safer and healthier buildings and guarantees a future for traditional producers of renewable resources that many communities depend on. Several initiatives have led the charge to bring awareness of sustainable flooring as well as healthy buildings. Below are examples of available, though sometimes less well-known, eco-friendly flooring options. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends those with allergies to dust or other particulates choose flooring with smooth surfaces – such as hardwood, vinyl, linoleum tile or slate.

Environmentally Sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of ecological sustainability.

Sustainable distribution refers to any means of transportation / hauling of goods between vendor and purchaser with lowest possible impact on the ecological and social environment, and includes the whole distribution process from storage, order processing and picking, packaging, improved vehicle loadings, delivery to the customer or purchaser and taking back packaging.

Reusable packaging is manufactured of durable materials and is specifically designed for multiple trips and extended life. A reusable package or container is “designed for reuse without impairment of its protective function.” The term returnable is sometimes used interchangeably but it can also include returning packages or components for other than reuse: recycling, disposal, incineration, etc. Typically, the materials used to make returnable packaging include steel, wood, polypropylene sheets or other plastic materials.

Ecopreneurship is a term coined to represent the process of principles of entrepreneurship being applied to create businesses that solve environmental problems or operate sustainably. The term began to be widely used in the 1990s, and it is otherwise referred to as "environmental entrepreneurship." In the book Merging Economic and Environmental Concerns Through Ecopreneurship, written by Gwyn Schuyler in 1998, ecopreneurs are defined as follows:

"Ecopreneurs are entrepreneurs whose business efforts are not only driven by profit, but also by a concern for the environment. Ecopreneurship, also known as environmental entrepreneurship and eco-capitalism, is becoming more widespread as a new market-based approach to identifying opportunities for improving environmental quality and capitalizing upon them in the private sector for profit. "

Sustainable Materials Management is a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire lifecycles. It represents a change in how a society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By looking at a product's entire lifecycle new opportunities can be found to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs. U.S. and global consumption of materials increased rapidly during the last century. According to the Annex to the G7 Leaders’ June 8, 2015 Declaration, global raw material use rose during the 20th century at about twice the rate of population growth. For every 1 percent increase in gross domestic product, raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent. This increasing consumption has come at a cost to the environment, including habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overly stressed fisheries and desertification. Materials management is also associated with an estimated 42 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Failure to find more productive and sustainable ways to extract, use and manage materials, and change the relationship between material consumption and growth, has grave implications for our economy and society.

References

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  25. Benefits For Being Green
  26. More Benefits For Green Companies
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Further reading