Packaging Sustainability

<p style="text-align: justify;">There are many definitions of sustainability. The UN defines sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. "</p><p style="text-align: justify;">To me, sustainability is about walking. Be capable of walking a very long distance. Walking with respect to the only Earth we were given. Walking the path on three legs: People, Planet, and Profit. You cannot walk very far if one of these legs is broken. And secure that no leg is broken; we must act responsibly. Sustainability must encompass the whole environment around us.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Sustainability is a bit of a myth when it comes to packaging. In the past, many companies (over 75%) made bold statements and a strong commitment to sustainability in packaging, with 2025 deadlines. Unfortunately, for many stakeholders today, sustainability ends with recyclable packaging. And it is a big misunderstanding of the sustainability concept. Placing recyclable packaging on the market without waste stream infrastructure is another packaging waste. Sustainability must be approached holistically and cover the entire value chain. It is about sourcing, manufacturing, use, disposal, and end life. Packaging sustainability must be assessed scientifically and objectively. It is rather a cross-industry discipline than a "one-man show". Commitment to substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse ASAP. Packaging must as well meet the market criteria for performance and cost.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">No surprise, despite all the statements, we can see that many commitments are often not being fulfilled according to plan. Studies say only 30% of companies are adequately prepared to meet their commitments to sustainable packaging.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Underestimating the challenges involved and being resistant to change are the causes. Why?&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Putting sustainability into practice is quite a difficult task. Besides others, you need adequate knowledge, expertise, material availability, the proper tools, the suitable target definition with the appropriate metrics, and excellent planning and high management engagement.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">It can be a slightly costly task in the end. Not only due to the cost of implementing advanced materials with recycled content or mono composition (it can be cheaper if your business model changes or improves impact, e.g., logistics, etc.). It might require changing your equipment or modifying the current one, which can require investment in thousands of EUR. You might need to change the process and materials specification completely. And from the material perspective, there is no security, and the packaging material change will ultimately meet customers' expectations.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">But who if not you, and when if not NOW?&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Remember, there is the risk that our company will soon be out of business if it is unwilling to take sustainability seriously.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Why?&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Today, business investments are often strictly based on sustainability and performance. Consumers are highly concerned about the environmental impact of your products, incl. packaging (CGS survey mentioned of 1,000 U.S. consumers says that almost 70% of respondents considered sustainability as at least "somewhat important," and almost half (47%) said that they would pay 25% more for sustainable products.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 14pt;">Impact of Sustainable Packaging</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">Nielsen research shows that 48% of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact. Other studies have shown that 30% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims).&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Governments have responded to public concerns regarding packaging waste (question if governments used scientific data for some decisions). In many countries, legislation discriminates against packaging based on the newly introduced eco-design standards.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Novelization of EU PPWD will focus not only on the aspect of overpacking but as well place new optics on reusability. All EPRs and packaging taxes bring fresh air to packaging designs and solutions. All this together can be good for your company, and it can be clearly a driver of upstream innovation. The total cost of ownership must be calculated well here, and your packaging could become uncompetitive if not designed accordingly.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Novel materials, concepts vs. required product protection. But there needs to be clarity involved, too, as all these legal aspects are usually made locally, and there is no standardization at the global level. And of course, there is still missing recycling infrastructure in many regions (OECD estimates waste management infrastructure improvement in low- and middle-income countries are expected to cost EUR 25 billion annually), not talking about the business case for several r-plastic vs. virgin and r-content resins availability, feedstock availability.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Keep in mind all packaging on the EU market will be reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030, which can be challenging, e.g., flexible packaging. As well as challenging demands on r-content in plastic packaging made by many retailers.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 10pt;"><em>This article was contributed by our expert <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Ladislav Hurdalek</a></em></span></p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><h3 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 18pt;">Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Ladislav Hurdalek</span></h3><h3 style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</h3><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 12pt;">1. What are some of the sustainable ways of packaging?</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">In general, the packaging concept (strategy) should focus on minimizing material use while maintaining protection needs, becoming easily recyclable, and having the least amount of environmental impact possible based on your given business model (LCA provides us with a hint here, but sometimes we end up on dilemma what parameter to prioritize. Some ideas produce excellent GHG emission results but have negative effects in other areas, etc.). Finally, when switching from one recyclable material to another, use the LCA study to guide your decision. Avoid jumping into the carbon footprint trap.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Unfortunately, many companies only show one side of their LCA studies. Look at your entire business lifecycle and model.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">On the other hand, consider the function of packaging. It should protect what is important. Chant the mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle every minute. Do not underestimate Refuse.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Generate as little waste as possible. Meaning, reduce the amount of packaging material over the entire lifecycle when designing concepts while meeting the protection of the product. Calculate the cost of the required barrier.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Keep in mind the package-product ratio. Always look into the end-of-life options for packaging in your area. This is easy to say but difficult to do for many reasons. Support the waste management infrastructure in your region if responsible ones are sleeping.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 12pt;">2. What are the sustainable materials used in packaging?</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">Due to the complexity of sustainability, various solutions may be needed depending on the product, business model, and region. Clearly, among all materials, plastics require fewer resources than other alternatives. Try to avoid non-recyclable ones. However, there may be better options than this if your company's business model is based on a reuse scheme.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Additionally, plastics are polluting regions without proper collection and waste management facilities. From the material perspective, I am not a supporter of compostable packaging materials, infrastructure for a variety of reasons does not exist, and if they land in the wrong place, they do more harm than good (release of methane, etc.), but it is advertised as sustainable packaging in many cases.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 12pt;">3. What is the revision of EU legislation on packaging and packaging waste?</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">Everyone is excited about the outcome of the 94/63/EC revision. This directive was already reviewed in the past, but this time it is really big. 65 articles vs. the previous 25. Novel definition of packaging (e.g., tea bags). Big focus on the reuse concept. The question is if the EU used all available scientific data and if the industry is ready for such change, referring to my note about the commitments. There are comments from different packaging segment representatives, and we will see more exciting discussions.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><h2 style="text-align: justify;"><span style="font-size: 12pt;">4. What do you consider to be the challenges to sustainability packaging?</span></h2><p style="text-align: justify;">Waste management scaling up and low current viability, except HPDE and PET. No, or limited waste management availability in many regions. Lack of global standardization. Low-end users education on sustainability and the importance of packaging.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">Low waste-related policy activity in regions outside the EU. They increased implementation costs for some concepts versus a willingness to mitigate this effect through creative business models, such as logistics. Low penetration of material innovations to the market, even the barrier innovations are going in the right direction, and we will soon see more great solutions.</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: justify;">&nbsp;</p>
KR Expert - Ladislav Hurdalek

Core Services

Human insights are irreplaceable in business decision making. Businesses rely on Knowledge Ridge to access valuable insights from custom-vetted experts across diverse specialties and industries globally.

Get Expert Insights Today