Improving the sustainability (environmental friendliness) of packaging is a hot topic for packaging professionals. The packaging industry has seen sustainability progress from the latest buzzword to an everyday part of our vocabulary. Still, there is room for basic knowledge and guidance, especially for those companies lacking large packaging staffs or sustainability departments.
Nine steps to take when designing more environmentally friendly packaging :
1- Identify your company’s goals and initiatives. It is important to understand what environmental impacts your company is most concerned with and design with those in mind. For example, is your company concerned about the amount or types of plastic they use? If so, then that should be taken into consideration when designing new packages.
2- Identify the destination of the package. This knowledge helps the designer understand what end-of-life options (recycling, landfill, incineration) are available at the destination, which may affect how you design your package. In addition, knowing the destination allows you to account for fees associated with any environmental impacts pertaining to your package.
3- Identify applicable regulations. Regulations should supersede all other considerations in package design and, therefore, need to be considered early in the process. It is important to understand whether regulatory requirements are consistent for all destinations. If not, can the package be tailored to each destination, or should it be designed to meet regulations in all destinations?
4- Determine how a package will be shipped. In general, the most energy-efficient mode of shipping is preferable. However, the mode of shipping is often determined by business requirements (e.g., balancing cost challenges, reduced inventory/increased turnover, flexibility/customized features/delivery, suppliers’/customers’ locations, etc.) It is important to design packages consistent with the mode of shipping selected and, when possible, to choose the most energy efficient shipping option.
5- Identify internal requirements; marketing, regulatory affairs, and/or other applicable departments that should be considered. Internal requirements take into account whether the environmentally responsible package is economically viable, whether it enhances the product’s image and acceptability, and whether it protects the product from physical, biological, or chemical harm, among other considerations.
6- Identify and understand any applicable customer requirements. It is much more common for customers (mainly retailers) to have specific package design guidelines that must be followed. These guidelines often include packaging materials they will not accept, specific pallet requirements, etc. Your best source in your company for finding this information is your sales team or supply chain organization. In addition, often you can find information on a customer’s website.
7- Raw material selection. Product manufacturers face many tradeoffs when choosing between raw materials. Choices should be made with the complete life cycle of the package in mind.
8- Address the actual package design. If you followed steps one through seven, you should be armed with enough information to minimize the environmental impact of your package.
9- Communicate what your package hopes to accomplish, what has been done, and why it is important. Educating the consumer and the retailer is important to ensure that everyone’s understanding of environmentally responsible packaging is improved.
By following these nine steps, you will improve on the environmental impact of your packaging.