Sustainable Packaging Processes Must Also Be Safe Packaging Processes

Sustainable Packaging Processes Must Also Be Safe Packaging Processes

New results from a study suggests that children with more exposure to two chemicals commonly used in food packaging may be more likely to be obese or have insulin resistance.  The study shows that bisphenol A (BPA), used in many aluminum cans, may be a link to obesity in youth.  A second chemical, DEHP, often used to soften plastic bottles, may be linked to insulin resistance.

Though the researchers seem quick to point out that the study does not create a cause-effect relationship between the two, there does seem to be a link.  For those in the packaging industry, it is another reason to choose your ingredients, packaging, and packaging machinery wisely.  As packaging moves toward more sustainable processes and consumers continue to become more health conscious, the two trends were likely to collide at some point.  Though the definition of sustainable packaging has been hard to nail down, there does seem to be agreement that the concept encompasses the entire packaging process, from the manufacture of the package and product, to the shipment to the packager, the process of filling, capping and labeling the product, shipping to the consumer and, of course, the re-use or recycling once consumed.

At least one multi-part definition of sustainable packaging includes a line dedicated to safety.  This line states that sustainable packaging:

"Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle..."  

(See the definition of sustainable packaging at the sustainable packaging coalition website.)

By including life cycle in that statement, this definition incorporates safety into every aspect of the process.  Using the chemicals mentioned above in the manufacture of the container would not meet this defintion of sustainable packaging.  However, using packaging machinery for foods and beverages, such as liquid fillers, that do not meet certain sanitary requirements would also not meet the standards of the above definition.  

Much of the discussion around sustainable packaging focuses on saving resources, saving energy and recycling.  While the safety and health of individuals is noted, there seems to have been little discussion or action taken surrounding the same.
Actions by both the FDA and the USDA can be used to point to new laws in food packaging and packaging in general.  For instance, BPA can no longer be used in baby bottles, but not enough evidence exists to ban the use in other products.  To this observer, such analysis seems illogical and inane.  Once a chemical, product or process is called into question by legitimate, fact-driven research, why not ban that chemical, product or process until it can be proven both safe and effective?   

Perhaps it is time for the packaging industry to take it upon themselves to focus more on safety when defining sustainable packaging.  We cannot expect the government agencies or those profitting from the use of the questionable chemicals, products and machinery to protect our consumers, but as an industry we can protect them ourselves.  Without the safety of the consumer, there exists no market for the bottle and cap manufacturer, the packager or the packaging machine manufacturer.  The next revision to the defintion of sustainable packaging should include more guidance on the safety of the packaging process as a whole.

For more on the study mentioned above, visit Reuters.