It is impossible to talk about sustainable packaging without talking about the whole waste hierarchy, which is the responsible management of resources related to the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Yet the most important of these efforts isn’t even in the three Rs we learned as children – prevention, via redesign, has to come first.
This is apparent when we look at the waste hierarchy itself. Prevention is at the very top. We cannot reduce the materials without a redesign. We cannot reduce our packaging materials without a redesign. We also cannot increase what portion of the product packaging is reusable without a redesign. Further, we cannot recycle packaging unless it is created using recyclable materials.
In this blog post, explore what drives the urgency for flexible packaging converters to develop sustainable packaging, and how engineers can audit their own design process to move toward more sustainable packaging.
Consumers Expect More From the Supply Chain
A Consumer Brands Association report found 86% of Americans believe we are experiencing a packaging and plastic waste crisis. Consumers are looking to brands to address this growing issue. In fact, according to a recent study, 77% of consumers say it’s important that brands are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Of those who say it is very or extremely important, over 70% would pay a premium for sustainable products.
As consumer packaged goods brands are creating their own sustainable solutions, they are also looking at packaging converters to create products that help them achieve their goals. This includes sourcing the right films, inks, adhesives and coatings. Major brands like Unilever, Conagra, Nestle and PepsiCo have made pledges to increase sustainable materials in their packaging over the next five years. With a renewed sense of urgency around sustainability, flexible packaging converters are feeling the pressure to modify design and process to meet this changing demand – and it all comes back to redesign.
Auditing for a Sustainable Redesign
While all three Rs are key for sustainable packaging initiatives, it all begins with the engineering teams redesign. However, the responsibility doesn’t rest solely with the engineering team.
Here are questions engineers can ask to help facilitate a conversation to impact meaningful change in how flexible packaging converters are meeting the needs of the end-user:
1. What will the consumer do with the packaging after consumption?
Many packaging converters design to the brand’s specifications. However, they do not take into account the consumer. If the packaging of the product being sold does not align with the target consumers’ objectives, the packaging design is irrelevant. Converters should focus on prioritizing packaging redesign for consumers that are most likely to actually recycle the product, or for high-volume applications. If the end-user wants to encourage recyclability, modify the designs so there’s room for communication to offer an incentive to get the consumer to recycle or reuse the package.
Before the redesign process begins, converters need to understand (and balance) the objectives of the end-user and their target consumer. In fact, in a recent survey 28% of brands and 41% of packaging professionals said there was a lack of alignment around sustainability goals through the value chain. Performing an end-of-life evaluation at the beginning of the design process will help to identify what the brand wants the customer to do with the package after consumption.
2. What opportunities are there to create more sustainable packaging?
Sustainable design is a complex challenge. The integration of physical design, material selection and the end of life considerations influence the overall energy and environmental impact of a package. By rethinking technical design objectives, packaging designers can influence the entire supply chain, from material sourcing to material recovery.
3. Where can packaging improvements be made in the packaging process?
Once engineers have an understanding of the objectives of the brand and the consumer, examine the packaging process to identify areas of strength and weakness in the packaging line. Set up a collaborative meeting between the engineering team and operations to review the entire packaging process.
By looking at the process as a whole, from design to production, it is possible to identify opportunities to produce a more sustainable package. Another way to improve the packaging process is by including supplier representatives. They bring valuable experience and may be able to help identify pain points and strengths the team may have overlooked.
Use Manufacturing Resources
Suppliers are often an underutilized resource for sustainable packaging improvements. Offering expert knowledge and real-life use cases, they can often be a valued partner in driving packaging improvements.
At Bostik, our goal is to support you with not only innovative, sustainable adhesive products, but also expertise and partnership. If you’ve reached the point in your sustainjourney where you’re ready to explore the role adhesives can play in reducing the environmental impact of your packaging, please think of us as a resource. Our experts will work alongside you to help you achieve your sustainability goals — no matter how ambitious. To create more sustainable packaging, contact our team of sustainability experts to get started today.