Can packaging really be sustainable?

Travis Gibbs (Packaging Engineer)

As a packaging engineer one of the most frequent requests is what can we do to make our packaging more sustainable?  I get really excited by these requests as taking care of the environment is truly a passion of mine. These inquiries allow grand visions of molded bamboo, bio based plastics, and 100% recycled corrugated to begin.


Paper dishware on wooden table

But is there really such a thing as sustainable packaging?  Try as I might to design the perfect package, I can’t stop someone from throwing it in a landfill when they are done with it.  This can be one of the most frustrating things about my job. Packaging is often seen nothing more than a disposable annoyance, and a costly, disposable annoyance in the eyes of some manufacturers.  It can be easy to get bogged down in the negative.

Even if I can’t design the most sustainable package every time I work on a project, I can try my best to make incremental improvements, stay current with new materials, and think about big picture impacts like how a smaller package can cascade into a number of benefits for all parties involved. These advantages can range from lower material cost, reduced shipping volume, lighter weight, and potentially easier to handle packaging.


I have been lucky enough to work on some really cool projects throughout my career, and more often than not I have been able to squeeze in green improvements without a customer even asking for them specifically.  A recent project that began as a cost savings investigation, not only resulted in $62,000 in savings, but also saved 50,000 lbs of corrugated packaging material from having to be produced.

So, until I can develop a package that is renewable, biodegradable, net zero, and all the other buzz words combined, I will keep looking for the small victories, watching them add up to something meaningful.


Written By: Travis Gibbs – Packaging Engineer | Travis has over ten years of packaging design, development, and project management experience in a variety of industries. His capabilities include packaging process reviews and improvements, competitive packaging reviews,  and implementation throughout the packaging supply chain. He has a six sigma greenbelt and is a board member for the west Michigan IoPP chapter.


2 thoughts on “Can packaging really be sustainable?

  1. Great perspective on continuous improvement (small victories) in the areas that you can impact. Nice article Travis!

  2. Excellent article Travis! In the battle to recycle and go green, it is thought leadership like yours that is necessity to sustain (no pun intended!) the cause!

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