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Packaging Industry Targets Design for Sustainability

Nearly two-thirds of respondents say sustainable design has become an important factor in packaging decisions, according to the 2010 Sustainability in Packaging Survey, reports Packaging Digest. This year’s survey also finds that the packaging industry has increased knowledge about environmental issues and has placed more importance on materials selection.

The fourth annual study, conducted in October by Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, received 630 responses from packagers, material and machinery suppliers, consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) and retailers.

Here are survey details from Packaging Digest.

The survey reveals that 98 percent of the 2010 survey respondents say they are familiar with sustainability issues, versus 53 percent in the first survey conducted in 2007. Those who said they were “not at all familiar” fell from 10 percent to 2 percent over the same period.

Another finding shows that 61 percent of respondents say their customers also are placing more importance on sustainability improvements, which brings up the issue of “greenwashing.” Eighty-one percent of survey participants say too many companies are making false or unproven claims on its environmental benefits.

To help solve the “greenwashing” issue, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently proposed several revisions to its ”Green Guides” that help companies avoid making misleading environmental claims.

Seventy-five percent of respondents say the industry needs a set of globally defined sustainability metrics, and 60 percent say vendor scorecards or ratings are needed to compare packaging suppliers’ sustainability practices.

Forty-five percent of respondents say their companies have sustainable packaging policies, compared to 32 percent in 2007. The most popular guidelines in those policies include: energy consumption (62 percent), recycled content specifications (54 percent), design guidelines (49 percent), and bans or limits on specific materials use (43 percent).

Two-thirds of survey respondents say that a failure to improve their sustainability practices could put their company’s reputation at risk.

However, nearly two-thirds say that implementing sustainability efforts has been difficult during the downturn. The biggest challenges are raw materials costs (49 percent), lack of alternative materials (38 percent), ability to produce comparable-quality packaging (35 percent) and compatibility with existing systems (24 percent).

The report also finds that materials play a big role in sustainability with recycled content cited as the most important criterion used to evaluate sustainability.

The report also finds that other recycling-related factors include design for recycling or composting (36 percent), toxic or harmful chemicals (35 percent) and probability a material will be recycled (29 percent).

In response, suppliers are developing new materials with recycled content. As an example, MicroGREEN Polymers just released its InCycle sheets product line, which is made of recycled PET. These sheets can be used as a sustainable alternative for print, packaging and containers. For example, the amount of source material recycled from one 20-oz. PET beverage bottle can produce seven 12-oz. hot beverage cups made from InCycle, according to the company.

The InCycle sheets are also made from less source material thanks to the company’s Ad-air technology that is said to reduce the amount of plastic required and significantly lower the environmental footprint of products made from them. The material is also recyclable.

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One thought on “Packaging Industry Targets Design for Sustainability

  1. PK – we have a retailer here tht is only selling bottled water in bio-degradable packaging. The town has a plastic recycling program – but these corn-based bottles should not go into the plastic recycling. When I asked about how to dispose of them, I was advised they should go into a ‘comercial compost’ operation – which there are none here. Apparently, our trash is incinerated.

    So – is that the next step for compost-able products? Commercial compost operations? Seems like we have the products, but NOT the facility to sensibly dispose of them. (Cart before horse!)

    Please advise any suggestions.

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