The Changing Definition of Sustainable Packaging

The Changing Definition of Sustainable Packaging

As we have mentioned before, defining sustainable packaging is not an easy task, the difficulty actual coming from both words in that phrase.  What exactly makes packaging sustainable?  Is it the ability to recycle material?  But even more than that, what exactly is packaging?  Does that refer to only the package itself?  The creation of the package or the entire packaging process?  As sustainability moves from a trend to a packaging concept that is here to stay, the foggy definition seems to be clearing up over time.

Though the packaging industry has been "going green" for some time now, there seems to be a perceptible path that has been taken to reach this point, as well as a logical next step.  The first step of going green may very well have been a trend toward healthier eating, or using healthier products in general.  Consumers became concerned about what was in the products they were eating, drinking, spraying or otherwise using in their day to day lives. People began paying attention to lists of ingredients on a wide range of products, and asking questions when confused.  Truly, this continues today, as science creates new, supposedly better, chemicals to add shelf life, color, texture or otherwise preserve products. 

While consumers continue to keep an eye on ingredients, they have also now turned to the package itself.  Plastic bottles, at one time seemingly the solution to all things packaging, are now under attack for the effect they have on the environment.  Some packagers are moving away from plastic bottles and other packaging that contains chemicals that have become unpopular with the public.  A recent Forbes article discusses the steps taken by several companies to make their packages more environmentally friendly.  (See"Sustainable Packaging Makes Outside Of Products As 'Green' As What's Inside").  So green has gone from the product to the package.

While the focus is still mostly on the package itself, the future of sustainable packaging will undoubtedly move to the packaging process as a whole, and already has to some extent.  (See "Nestlé reduces plastics in packaging by 34 percent" at Plastics News).  Packagers will have to consider not just the product and the package, but the natural resources used in shipping raw materials, actually packaging the product, and getting the product to the consumer.  In other words, the entire process, not just certain aspects, will have to work toward a sustainable end.

This means the product itself will have to be monitored.  The package material will need to be given some consideration.  The packaging machinery - power conveyors, filling machines, capping machines and more - will need to be efficient as well as effective.  The method of moving raw and finished materials will need to monitored.  All of these items will assist in making packaging "sustainable".

As the definition of sustainability continues to evolve, it will also continue to encompass new aspects of product, packaging and packaging processes.  While we should always continue to strive for truly sustainable packaging, we also need to understand that a concrete definition may never be achieved thanks to innovation, advancements and new technology.  As the world changes, as technology changes, so will the definition continue to change.