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Packaging Reduction Can Do More Harm than Good

A new report by the Global Packaging Project (GPP) states that the environmental risks of excessive packaging reduction can be greater than excessive packaging.

The report, A Global Language for Packaging and Sustainability, summarizes the work of the GPP to date, and consisted of input coming from projects taking place in ECR Europe, EUROPEN, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC).

The study reports that by reducing packaging excessively, manufacturers can do more harm than good. Though many companies focus on reducing packaging waste as a reasonable proxy for reducing energy intensity and excessive material production, this focus can have negative consequences if it leads to packaging that is too fragile to protect the products it is shipping.

This can result in an increase in products damaged in transit, requiring additional product manufacturing in order to replace the lost originals. Ironically, by trying to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging, companies may simply be shifting, and potentially increasing, the impact of their manufacturing operations.

The purpose of the report is to create a language and set of metrics to enable a more informed dialogue between trading partners about the relationship between packaging and sustainability.

The study also explains the importance of taking a Life Cycle approach, covering the consecutive and interlinked stages of a product system, from raw material acquisition or generation from natural resources to final disposal. This can also be referred to as a cradle-to-grave process.

It sets out a series of guidelines for maximizing sustainable package design, including holistic product design to optimize overall environmental performance, ensuring that packaging is made from responsibly sourced materials, its ability to meet market needs for performance and cost, that it be manufactured using clean production technologies, be efficiently recoverable after use, and sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled using renewable energy.

Europen hailed the study and urged its adoption by regulators and industry participants. The GPP is a partnership between several organizations and companies in packaging and manufacturing, including Wal-Mart, Tesco, Unilever and Nestle.

Unilever recently released its sustainable paper and board packaging sourcing policy that clearly defines the company’s paper sourcing goals over the next decade. Meanwhile, the International Standards Organization has begun work on a set of guidelines for packaging production.

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5 thoughts on “Packaging Reduction Can Do More Harm than Good

  1. I call b***sh*t on that “report” made by the industry association. Just look at the graph which is totally oversimplified and is weighted to overpackaging being less environmentally damaging.

  2. Jihad Johnson –
    OK, so you don’t like how they drew the graph. Two questions: 1) Do you know the difference between a conceptual drawing and a data plot? 2) Have you actually read the report?

  3. Then consider it an “opening dialog” with the “infidels” Mr. Johnson. Seriously now, I agree that their presentation is probably way oversimplified, likely skewed, and possibly supported by “disinformation” politics, but at least it shows that industry is engaged in the topic, remember what it was like when the big evil giants saw absolutely “zero value” in sustainability?

  4. Well, the headline was sufficiently beguiling. This all sounds like a big hoopla over common sense. Of course if you are shipping something fragile, it will need some protection. Don’t know that we needed a study to tell us that. When I’m cutting into thick, giant layers of packaging for a barbie doll or something else not so fragile, I get the feeling that this common sense issue isn’t our biggest problem.

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