Steel Weighs in on Packaging Industry Quest for Sustainability

Steel Weighs In On Packaging Industry Quest for Sustainability

As consumers talk of green packaging and demand sustainability, packagers are left to try to best define and implement the fairly vague concept behind these buzzwords.  While no one can argue against the benefits of renewable energy, lower costs, recycling and the protection of natural resources, as a whole we seem to be unable to agree on exactly what makes packaging or the packaging process sustainable.
One component of making packaging sustainable, however, is undoubtedly choosing the correct materials for the packaging, packaging process and packaging machinery. Thus, the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) has launched an educational campaign touting steel as the best material for the packaging industry. 
The SMDI is set to launch a national education campaign aimed at highlighting what it calls “the depth of steel’s leadership” in meeting the sustainability needs of the packaging industry. Steel is currently the preferred packaging material for more than 1,500 variations of food, pet food, paint, household products, health and beauty products, it says.
According to the SMDI, steel saves energy, ensures safe nutritious food, minimizes food waste and increases economic efficiencies. The group also says:
Across all markets, steel is the worlds most recycled material, more than all other materials combined.
Steel cans are the most recycled food package with a 71 percent recycling rate.
Steel food cans are more than 30 percent lighter than 25 years ago.
Unfortunately, some of the difficulty in defining the perfect process for sustainability comes from the fact that the same materials - and the same process - will not be ideal for every packaging project.  From the packaging machinery perspective, stainless steel is probably the most popular material for the construction of machines.  However, when liquid filling machines, power conveyors and other packaging machinery is built to handle harsh chemicals such as bleach and acid, stainless steel simply is not the best choice.  There are certain products that may require HDPE packaging machinery to avoid undue wear and tear on the machinery itself.  Other factors such as the packaging environment, the product size or, unfortunately, even cost concerns may force the definition of sustainability to change for each packaging project.  
This is not to say that the educational campaign by the SMDI is a bad thing.  Quite the opposite.  Rather than try to compose a universal definition for sustainability as it relates to packaging, the better solution may be for other material manufacturers to follow the example of the steel industry.  Educating packagers will allow them to make well-informed decisions regarding the materials and processes used, thus defining sustainability as it relates to each unique, individual packaging process.