The Need for Sustainable Packaging
One of the most concerning issues about sustainability is how the world produces and consumes. The process has a ubiquitous presence of packaging. Choose any product from your daily life – 90% of them come wrapped in packaging, which is eventually discarded and thrown off as waste. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the buying trends have shifted even more online. Home delivery is the new norm. Erstwhile unpacked items like vegetables, fruits and eggs which could be bought from the local stores, are now being delivered in packages. Sustainable packaging has become a necessary condition for both businesses and consumers. It’s no longer a choice.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
In simple words, sustainable packaging is an archetype of packaging, the environmental footprint of which, goes down over time, preferably such that, in the long run, either the packaging decomposes without causing any loss to the environment or perennially retains its usability and thus, is not required to be dumped in the environment.
In a broader sense, sustainable packaging involves such packaging, the raw materials of which are sourced responsibly, designed effectively such that the packaging remains safe all over its life cycle, meets the needs and preferences of the market in terms of cost and quality, is manufactured using reusable and clean energy, and after its shelf life is over, can be efficiently recycled or broken down organically.
What are the criteria for sustainable packaging?
The basic criteria of sustainable packaging as laid down by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, blends sustainability, ecological preservation and business objectives. They are as follows –
- The packaging should be beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle.
- It should meet market criteria for performance and cost.
- It is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy.
- It optimises the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
- The packaging should be manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices.
- It should be made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle.
- The packaging should be physically designed to optimise materials and energy.
- It can be effectively recovered and utilised in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles.
What are the different ways of doing sustainable packaging?
Below is a prescriptive list, charting different ways, packaging could be made sustainable –
Packaging considering ingredients- One of the most common methods of sustainable packaging is to use 100% raw and natural, or 100% recycled and recyclable materials.
Packaging considering production process – Packaging can be made sustainable by reducing the production process, optimising the supply chain and minimising the carbon footprint, through transformation and innovation.
Based on the above two methods, sustainable packaging can be of following types:
Recyclable packaging – Using materials like cardboard and paper is environment friendly for they can be recycled to produce other items. They have surfaced as the major substitute for plastic packaging.
Reusable packaging – For more durable sustainable packaging, natural-poly fabric and reusable plastics can be used, which have a longer use life and also restrict brazen carbon footprint contribution of disposable plastics.
Reduced packaging – Reduce packaging implies directly reducing environment and carbon footprint. This can be done by engineering goods and products in such a fashion that they can be delivered without damage, with the least possible packaging.
What are the business benefits of sustainable packaging?
Although it appears to be environment-centric, sustainable packaging constitutes social and economic implications as well. Adopting sustainable packaging comes with a series of business benefits –
- More and more consumers are seeking to buy from environment-friendly and responsible businesses; it will not only retain but also expand the customer base, and hence sales.
- Using sustainable packaging improves the brand image of the business.
- Sustainable packaging renders a good experience to the customers as well, thereby contributing to customer satisfaction.
- By using recyclable and reusable materials, and by reducing packaging, a business can reduce costs.
- Sustainable packaging can save business significant storage and warehouse costs.
Clean and affordable energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, protection of life on water and land are some of the 17 SDGs adopted by the UNDP, along with goals like zero poverty, no hunger, reduced inequality etcetera. These goals highly depended on each other. Issues like poverty, hunger and environmental degradation are mutually dependent and correlated. In the process of growth and development, we must adhere to sustainable means of production, distribution and consumption. In a lifestyle, where the goods we consume, without any exception, come in some or other form of packaging, for us to receive them in proper and usable condition, the packaging industry has a massive incidence. So, it must be viewed from the lens of sustainable development.