Packaging is more complicated than it looks. Protecting food and extending shelf life are a paramount goal of packaging, but sustainability, marketing and education are close seconds. Recent advances in food packaging have made the worldwide food supply as safe as it has ever been, but packaging technology must strike a balance between food protection and other issues, including energy and material costs, social and environmental consciousness, and strict regulations on pollutants and the disposal of municipal solid waste.
When referring to sustainable, or blue packaging, we define it as packaging that can be composted, recycled or reused and is produced, transported and recycled using renewable energy; made with renewable or recycled materials; made in ways that optimize the use of energy and reduce CO2 emissions; and safe for people and the environment throughout its life cycle. Blue packaging strives for a reduction of plastic content and can be achieved by combining plastic and cardboard, or other filler materials such as chalk.
We also know that effective packaging keeps customers engaged. It is a powerful marketing tool that reaches customers at the point of decision, the closest you can get to consumers. Effective packaging includes the placement of your logo, which leads to brand recognition and is one of the most important marketing decisions brand managers can make. Finally, today’s consumers want to be informed and acknowledged. As we discussed in an earlier blog, eco-Insights blogger Robert Lilienfeld tells us that history shows that while people say they want information, what they really want is to believe that you care enough about them to keep them up-to-date and informed. Effective packaging offers an opportunity to deliver not only nutrition information, but also marketing messages, recipes, contests, etc.
According to the publication Science for Environment Policy, more than half of all goods in Europe are packaged in plastic; on average, 29 kg per person each year. Of the 57 million tons of plastics produced in Europe annually, 39 percent is packaging. So how can we make packaging a marketing triumph and a sustainable success?
First, advances in recycling technologies are leading to new, more sophisticated sorting machines that should make it easier to recycle small, single-serve containers. For instance, technology innovations have made it easier to recycle previously difficult-to-treat plastics so they can be used to produce recycled products or fuel waste-to-energy facilities. Automated sorting technology has made it possible to achieve purity levels as high as 99.9 percent, according to an article on the Waste Management World website.
At the same time, manufacturers are increasingly turning to redesigned, cardboard-plastic combination packaging options, which score high environmentally due to their excellent CO2 balance. Finally, using recycled and renewable raw materials from the outset is a critical step in keeping packaging sustainable.
So the answer is yes, sustainability and successful packaging can—and must—coexist. Protecting the environment while delivering fresh, safe products is something consumers are demanding, and it will take collaboration between consumers, manufacturers and the recycling industry—as well as ongoing product innovation at every level, to achieve this common goal.
If you’d like to learn more about sustainable and effective packaging, we’d like to offer you a complimentary copy of our white paper, The benefits of sustainable dairy packaging.