Can packaging really be sustainable?

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.

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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.