Monday, March 23, 2015
All Wrapped Up
Packaging is necessary for pretty much all supply chains. It protects and preserves goods, makes them easier to handle and is a way of tempting buyers to make a purchase. Packaging’s also an effective vehicle for content and ingredient information, as well as regulatory compliance data. This includes health and safety facts, plus certifications and recycling information. All of this can either be on the package itself or on a label or two. This makes a package an extremely powerful primary communicator, at least for as long as it still contains its contents. This can be for years in the case of Fast Moving Consumer Goods that take forever to use up. Think shampoo and conditioner clutter, and exotic canned soups that seemed like a good idea at the time.
But most packaging doesn’t have a particularly long lifespan. Once its useful life is over, packaging’s mostly discarded. Supply chains for recycling glass and plastics are getting better in developed markets, but there is still more we should be doing, if we are to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and increase reuse. We need to be smarter about using packaging resources more cleverly, for instance as raw materials for other products. Carlsberg has set up an ambitious long term project to do just that (see last week’s blog), however all companies can do their bit.
It starts with being aware that we can make packages out of different materials, and with changing how we think. We need to move away from a consumptive mindset, expecting raw materials to come uniquely from virgin materials. This is increasingly out of step with environmental thinking, but it’s only a weeny part of solving the problem. Technology to use of waste materials to create new products is as important. The textile industry has established supply chains for making new products from recycled PET and cotton fibres, and the printing and publishing industries are brilliant at creating new substrates from recycled paper and cotton. So what more can be done to improve the recyclability of packaging?
For a start we can raise awareness amongst consumers. This could be a value add for brands actively involved in environmental protection, such as the UK’s Marks & Spencer or Walmart in the US. We can encourage packaging print buyers to opt for RPET (Recycled Polyethelyne) plastics instead of virgin PET, and recycled paper substrates. Supply chain development is key to leveraging simple awareness amongst consumers: if packaging recycling is more convenient, more of it can happen. Routes to turning waste into new raw material materials must be simpler and less resource intense, and we should all be thinking holistically. One man’s waste is another’s raw material and this provides all sorts of exciting possibilites for new packaging product designs based on what would otherwise be waste .
- Laurel Brunner