Packaging for the Environment

With the current US government administration in place and ready to roll back any and all advances on protecting, preserving and repairing the environment, it is on consumers and manufacturers to do their due diligence, and do everything possible to benefit the environment.

Consumers can press their favorite brands to stay up-to-date on eco-friendly packaging technology, and manufacturers can take the initiative themselves. More and more consumers are voting with their wallets, meaning that a company can benefit and succeed if it is on the right side of history and open and vocal about helping the environment.

Sustainability considerations in commercial packaging have been around since about 2006 in a serious way. As environmentalism (which has, in turn, been around since the 70s and even before that) takes a firmer hold on the social consciousness, companies should and are following the trend. In March of 2017, a bunch of large companies like Nestle vowed to continue Obama administration efforts to counteract climate change and boost their own sustainability in reaction to Trump’s executive order reversing those efforts. Granted, these are massive companies with decades of foundation to fall back on; but, the point is, they won’t need to fall back because environmentalism and sustainability are such strongly supported causes.

They may lose some clients, but likely, they’ll gain even more support and positive associations for their businesses for choosing the environment. It’s not like they’re choosing the environment over profits because I’m sure they’ll make up for any money spent on minimizing waste, contributing to research, and upgrading their packaging and sustainability efforts overall will be recouped easily because of satisfied and vindicated consumers. It’s a good time as a company, small or large, to be thinking about what you can do with your packaging, and your production practices altogether, to benefit the environment or, at least, minimizes your negative impact on it. Even if it starts with not double packaging your products in order to cut your packaging supplies in half (doesn’t that save money?), that’s a start. There are many simple, tried-and-true ways to make sure that your packaging is not causing the Earth to bleed and die more than it already is (sorry if that’s too graphic an image). One of the great things about our rapidly developing technologies and communication capabilities is that innovation is in its heyday and you can promote your packaging innovation easily and efficiently. If you have to spend a little more to have reusable or recycled packaging, you can minimize some of your advertising costs but implementing a vigorous (and mostly free) social media marketing campaign! Many states are also giving benefits to companies who work toward sustainability, as are organizations. And remember, you’ll reap the benefit of that positive consumer feedback and the boost in sales. Consumers are looking for ways to minimize their environmental impact, too; and, if you’re doing a lot of the work for them, they’ll love you for it!

Current and recent trends as far as green packaging are just the first step; packaging companies and even those who produce products that need packaging can push for more research and innovation. One recent trend is for biological packaging; companies like Coca-Cola have been utilizing partially biological packaging in their commercial production. They have also been working on bottles that are 100% made from biological materials which will minimize the global company and its consumer’s carbon footprints and waste production.

In a similar category are bioplastics which have been on the floor for innovation and advancement in the last year or so. Researchers have especially been testing bioplastic where it requires heat resistance. Companies are slowly coming out with commercially viable packaging made from renewable products that can withstand heat and other obstacles generally faced by commercial packaging materials.

One of the most exciting innovations, in my opinion, is edible packaging. I’ve seen videos of a dude opening a string cheese, eating the string cheese and then eating the package I can’t get that image out of my mind. This is the epitome of eliminating waste (well, a certain type of waste *winky face*) and creating eco-friendly packaging. It’s not just a fantasy, either. PepsiCo has been working on edible packaging. There is a startup based at Harvard that is working on edible plastic and paper to minimize waste as well. We’re probably a long way off from this being a true reality because, of course, if a package is consumable it could easily be damaged or broken down, thereby not producing protection for the products it contains. The research is happening and it definitely seems possible.

My advice to packaging producers and those who need to invest in packaging for their products: look at where the industry is moving and think about how you can move it along. This is an exciting time for innovation because there are real problems that need to be solved. Creativity can find a new life in sustainable packaging. One thought I had is to work on packages that can be reused. My personal efforts have included carrying totes to the grocery store and Tupperware to wherever I’m going to get prepared food, to minimize the take-out containers I have to waste. Packaging companies could consider turning their packages into resealable packages that are marketed at eco-friendly ways to minimize waste.

Picture it: Mom pours the last of the cereal into little Maria’s bowl and then rinses it out and puts Maria’s lunch in it. The point is to think, create, problem-solve, and do whatever you can to preserve the planet for Maria and her children’s children.

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