Sustainability success must address the whole storybook
A partnership between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the United Nations Environment Program has challenged companies and brands to change the factors that lead to pollution from plastic packaging with an ambitious goal set for 2025. It is the opportunity to give a common vision of the way in which we propose solutions. in this space.
There are many different options brands and their suppliers are implementing to reduce waste and drive circularity in the supply chain. Consumer education and human behavior change related to how we interact with waste are essential. The system we have in place today to manage recycling could benefit from a facelift and an educational campaign to help consumers better understand their part and how it all works. The will and participation of the public are present. But inconsistent practices, lack of information, and insufficient guidance have created a costly path to the dumps and created distrust of our system in American homes.
Engineering and providing alternatives only works if humans understand how to handle these materials and keep them in the intended system. Programs like How2Recycle are leading the way, but more effort is needed to educate brands and consumers.
Consider the total supply chain
We need to ensure that sustainability extends beyond the engineering boundaries of a solution on the backend and incorporates efforts throughout the supply chain to reduce our carbon footprint. Think of a big storybook as an analogy to sustainability. Often we just turn to the middle of the book and choose a page, in this case the engineering option for a particular material or packaging. Often we neglect to bring together data from the entire supply chain, the before and after pages that capture a very important part of the story.
Most manufacturers have energy, water and waste conservation programs in place to protect the environment and improve their operations. All of this is usable in a sustainability statement made by a brand. Additionally, some inherent green claims can be made about various conventional materials selected by brand owners. There are also different choices for waste management. Finally, recycling, composting, biodegradation and upcycling all have potential.
To solve waste problems, it is essential to ensure that we focus on the right offender. Food waste is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. Food gets thrown into a landfill, rots and becomes a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Packaging is intended to protect food and extend its shelf life. We must be careful to select the right options when making packaging choices. Sometimes conventional materials are the best method to avoid unwanted food waste. There are alternative waste stream management systems, such as TerraCycle, to deal with conventional materials. They are also part of the previously mentioned storybook.
Go beyond marketing
At the heart of the problem is the Earth. Sustainability and eco-friendly packaging should be more than a marketing campaign to appease public opinion. To protect it, we must educate and change human behavior. We need to make sure that we focus on telling the whole story when it comes to sustainability claims. We need to focus on the primary offenders and ensure that we select the most sensible options to have the greatest impact.
There are many options available and new technologies are still emerging. By working together, we will succeed in achieving our environmental goals.
The author, Tom Seymour, is a Business Development Specialist at Bison Bag Company and an IoPP Certified Packaging Professional. Tom is also Vice Chairman of the IoPP Board of Directors. For more information on the IoPP, please visit www.iopp.org.