SOFT&GREEN Insights

When packaging is sustainable

Cardboard boxes, plastic trays, styrofoam trays, plastic wrap and bottles, glass jars and bottles, paper bags… The imagination is the limit when you start describing what you find in a normal shopping cart. This is all packaging material that definitively ends up in the waste bin and in many situations, unfortunately ends up in non-sorted waste.

By now packaging has become an integral part of our lives. Every product is prepared in more or less colourful packaging, often to attract our attention, and it is also essential for preserving and protecting a product as well as to ensure optimum hygiene. Packaging also informs consumers about a product’s characteristics and prevents the product from coming into contact with children or animals for example. Often, however, we only notice a product’s packaging after the end of its useful life, when it becomes waste or must be disposed of once its contents have been used.

There are two paths that can be taken with packaging to reduce the increase in our daily waste: the first involves the study and design of sustainable packaging, taking both functionality and the environmental impacts associated with production into account as well as the use and disposal of the product itself; the second is related to the recovery, recycling and reuse of packaging in order to reduce its volume while minimizing the use of new raw material.

CONAI, the National Packaging Consortium (http://www.conai.org), has developed seven levers of prevention which should be referred to for reducing the environmental impact of packaging: reuse, material savings, use of recovered and/or recycled materials, facilitating recycling activities, logistics optimization, simplification of the packaging system and optimization of production systems.