Greenwashed OR Sustainable Packaging, where are we heading?
Green Packaging can just be a shallow term for some companies to jump on the green bandwagon and try to make some extra cash using eco-slogans. Green marketing and advertising are ever popular strategies to further business interests by showing increased concerns for sustainability issues. Eco-Friendly is such an over used phrase, that many companies tend to use this term to greenwash, while not having any actual interest in their environmental impact. Call me a cynic or a greenie, but one must understand that sustainability is a serious challenge and we have the power to influence the situation. For ethical and responsible companies, Green packaging aim is not just to reduce the amount of packaging, but it also involves taking the package design, processing, disposal conditions and the entire product lifecycle into consideration. Businesses invest in green packaging, because consumer research has shown that customers value sustainable packaging, provided that the other aspects of packaging and functionality are met. The 2025 National Packaging Targets set the ambition for all Australians to choose a sustainable pathway for our future.. • 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. • 70% of plastic packaging being recycled or composted. • 50% of average recycled content included in packaging. • The phase out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging. All of us are probably aware that some of characteristics of the sustainable packaging are… 1. REDUCE—>REUSE—->RECYCLE 2. Minimizing the amount of packaging used (weight and volume). 3. Minimizing the energy used for production and transportation of goods. 4. Using packaging that can be reused again 5. Make the packaging material sourced from a renewable source (or sugar cane or corn) 6. Packaging materials should not contain toxic substances or toxic substances content should be controlled. 7. The packaging of products throughout their life cycle, should not polluting the environment or cause pollution Some of the challenges are: Making plastics more recyclable. This requires effort by everyone in the supply chain. The manufacturer of the resin, the converter who makes it into a rigid or flexible package, the brand owner who sells it to the retailers, the retailers themselves, the consumer, the council / municipality recycling centre or similar end of life company, the company the collects the post consumer material and makes it into usable resin again, and regulators. Getting everyone to align and put into effort ($$$) is the challenge. For the most part, most rigid containers (ie water bottles, cans, containers, corrugated board) can be recyled today as long as they can get collected. Investing in better recovery supply chains (curb side pickup or more recycling centers with laws mandating recycling) help. Fortunately, most of the states in Australia are incentivising the public at large to do the recycling. I am sure that it is helping a lot. Flexible packaging waste is the biggest noticeable eyesore, still they are more difficult to re-cycle, because they are typically made of multiple types of resins and have low mass (therefore small value for the work of collecting them). They are not easily sorted at the recycling facility like rigid materials and can blow around and jam up equipment, conveyors etc… The problem becomes how do consumers get the flexible packaging waste to the recycling centre to begin with? There are generally 3 types of compostable packaging. The first is "degradable" which is a nightmare. Instead of the package fully breaking down, it just breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic, so you don't see it. it's easier in the eyes but creates more problem for animal life. Let's just take our problem and make many more pieces of it and sweep it under the rug. The second type, which has been around for longer, is industrial compostable. This is when a material will fully break down but only if it is in certain conditions like high temp, pressure and low oxygen. This can work but these facilities need to be built and are not cheap. The third type is fully compostable. This is like put it in your yard and it'll be gone in couple of months. Although, its use in commercial applications where decent amount of shelf life is required is questionable for now and pricing is not advantageous. There is some of this in alternative plastic materials, but their properties make them expensive and difficult to run and don't work for every application. Shelf life, cost and new products that aren't proven in the market don't help much. There is no doubt that things are definitely changing, use of single use poly bags has diminished by great extent over here in Australia. Supermarkets have stopped using those poly bags and have started charging customers about 25 cents for compostable/recycleable bags or $1 for jute/re-usable bags since last few years. This has brought down the consumption of single use poly bags by great extent and has drastically improved re-use of bags. Although, primary packaging for food in flexible packaging format is a challenge that is not going to be overcome easily. Economical materials based on PE, PET, BOPP that are proven in the market and can provide good shelf life and has aestheics appeal are too good to ignore... I think that the uncertainity of new greener packaging materials performance, relatively high costs, reliable delivery challenges push the genuine intention to try new materials to the back burner.. As far as green marketers are concerned, many times, Green Packaging and Environmental friendly and sustainable packaging, terms are less about sustainability and the environment, and more about evoking an aspirational lifestyle. There is no doubt that marketing aims to sell the product, or even the brand – by selling the desirable ideas, emotions and experiences behind it. Green marketing goes further in the sense that it pitches an ethos, the belief that consumers are improving the world, and themselves, via their purchasing decisions. It will be extremely good if there is marked element of truth behind most of these green marketing campaigns. In my opinion, things will rapidly change once the greener products start to yield better business deliverables to the companies. Till then, let us be more vigilant and aware of companies marketing campaigns and try and understand their intent and beliefs...
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