Sustainable packaging – who’s thinking about it?


Like I said yesterday, now I have 2 days before my beautiful little girl is due to arrive into this world (naturally message me if you want to donate to her child trust fund, as I will need the extra cash just to make up what the banks are losing on them!) and here I am thinking about nappies (diapers for our US friends out there!) and the volume of them that we’ll be purchasing in the next couple of years.bn1000_new_baby_nappy

So I know there’s been lots of press about nappies  ending up in land fills and not being bio-degradable blah blah blah, but I’ll be responsible and dispose of them in a way that hopefully is better for the environment. But what about the packaging?

It got me thinking; if I pop down to my local nappy  outlet and buy nappies they come either in a big printed box or in a plastic printed shrink wrap, is this packaging sustainable at all?

And look at the volume I’ll buy, they estimate a baby will use 4500 before they are out of them, with the average pack size of 56, thats 80 odd packs we’ll be buying, multiple that by the 4 million plus babies born each year and you have a heck of a lot of packaging!

What’s sustainable packaging all about then?

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition list it as 8 main points as follows:

  1. Packaging is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle;
  2. Meets market criteria for performance and cost;
  3. Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy;
  4. Maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials;
  5. Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices;
  6. Is made from materials healthy in all probable end of life scenarios;
  7. Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy;
  8. Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle to cradle cycles.

Not all packaging will be able to fulfil these points, but companies can make inroads into changing their manufatcturing and transportation processes to be kinder to the environment. But does the process of material selection start way before the design of the product packaging in order to fulfil some of the sustainablity requirements?

We see examples of packaging sustainability everyday in the news and in advertising. Take two examples; Apple recently made a big deal about the packaging and manufacturing material of their new MacBooks listing a number of recyclable componants and ratings they acheive with the products. This is what they list:

  • Arsenic-free display glass
  • BFR-free
  • Mercury-free LED-backlit display
  • PVC-free internal cable
  • Highly recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure
  • Reduced packaging volume
  • Meets ENERGY STAR Version 5.0 requirements
  • Rated EPEAT Gold

Another example that we have seen a lot of is the reduction of packet size. Let’s look at Fabric Conditioner; you may have seen the recent adverts for a leading brand that talks about being able to transport more units every trip due to the super concentrate? Well the impact is huge – the reduced volume of lorry trips and the reduction in fuel needs which lowers the CO2 emissions. All great stuff for the environment.

We see a lot of companies building carbon footprint calculators into their portals for their customers use, but is this too late in the design stage of the products. There are online options available and one that is immediately available is the Compass system at $750 ($500 for members fo SPC) it would appear to appeal to anyone to calculate the potential environmental impacts upfront.

COMPASSSM (Comparative Packaging Assessment) is an online software tool for packaging designers and engineers to assess the human and environmental impacts of their packaging designs

When sustainability and product presence collide.

It’s not all good news though as there are plenty of examples out there where reducing the packaging size or material would have a detramental effect to the products presence in the market. Take crisps or potato chips…. I remember when I was a kid that crisp packets seemed full of those flavoured waffer thin slices of heaven. Today you buy a packet and whilst the size of the packaging is the same, the packet only appears to be a quarter full…. Could they reduce the size to better fit the contents or would the brands then struggle for shelf awareness? But look at the impact that could have…. a box for 24 crisps is bigger than a crate of beer yet a fraction of the weight.

When printed packaging isn’t neccessary.

Looking ahead at my 3 year nappy challenge, am I worried about the brightly printed packaging? Not really – I’m more interested in the price, once I’ve made my brand selection I’d be please for a small reduction in cost to be able to buy them in bulk with no branded packaging….. And what of the online market place for electrical goods; OK I understand that you may want a pretty box as you walk out of your electrical reseller with your food mixer under arm, bounding along to your car all proud of your purchase, but when you order online your boxed product then needs to be boxed again to be delivered to you only for you to unpack the two sets of packaging and swiftly dispose of them…. what’s the sense there? Do you care about the branded packaging when it comes to virtual purchasing? Hardly helping the environment even if both sets of packaging is sustainable.


With the cost of packaging making a percentage of the product costs (even if it is a small fraction) the question of sustainability needs to be at the front of everyones business process requirements. There certainly are methods to quantify the environmental issues up front in the design cycle and Tunicca can readily assist in this area. We have number of exerts whose background is strongly entrenched in Packaging Pre-media and this is an area where the business impact of sustainability can and should be considered.

A hot topic and one we will no doubt address often in the coming months!

Author: Gary George

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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2 Responses to “Sustainable packaging – who’s thinking about it?”

  1. awo AKA &J Says:

    Regarding nappies & packaging: either use old-fashioned reusable nappies (but those need a lot of energy & detergent usage – always 95 degrees with special, more expensive washing powder) or invent new kind of a nappies packaging (want an idea to start with?)

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