How is the packaging industry raising its game on sustainability?

How is the packaging industry raising its game on sustainability?

  • Published In: News
  • Created Date: 2019-06-03

When did you first start thinking about the immense importance that a sustainable approach to packaging has to the state of our world? 

Perhaps it was the warnings of Sir David Attenborough and other key figures about the dire consequences of ocean pollution, or perhaps you have simply become gradually aware over the years of just how much packaging waste your own household or business produces?  

From humble origins to a major movement 

While it was only as recently as the 2000s that the packaging industry truly embraced the word ‘sustainability’ en masse – not least because of increasing awareness of the link between social responsibility and financial success – the current emphasis on sustainable packaging has its roots in the environmental movements of the 1970s.

Back then, much of the focus was on pollution and littering, and it’s fair to say that the grander narrative of sustainability in packaging has advanced considerably since then. It may have taken all the way until 2006 for one of the major users of packaging worldwide – Walmart – to propose the ‘seven Rs’ of sustainable packaging, but those principles have continued to exert considerable influence since then. 

The ‘seven Rs’ in question were Remove, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renew, Revenue and Read. It was Reduce, Reuse and Recycle that particularly went on to capture the imaginations of those inside and outside the packaging industry – but it is also true that the term ‘sustainable packaging’ can now be seen as going well beyond these terms.  

What does ‘sustainability in packaging’ mean as we near the 2020s?  

For packaging to be considered truly ‘sustainable’ today, it must make sense as part of a much bigger picture, in which it meets not only the most immediate functional and economic requirements that packaging must serve, but also helps to ensure future generations will be able to meet their own needs. 

Packaging, then, must be continually scrutinised for sustainability in relation to not only the previous environmentally-centred outlook but also economic and social factors, such as how ethically the material was sourced and the conditions in which the packaging was manufactured. 

But of course, sustainability in packaging can mean very different things to very different people. Many customers simply take ‘sustainable packaging’ to mean packaging that is recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, but returnable and reusable packaging – which is largely made from plastics – can be characterised as ‘sustainable’, too. 

Yes, even plastic packaging can be sustainable, as long as it is appropriately used and managed. It can be made so by minimising the overall volumes of such packaging that needs to be used, reducing bulk or weight, or otherwise minimising the damage to our environment that this packaging might cause. 

The importance of sustainable packaging is being increasingly realised  

It would be easy to downplay the difference that sustainable packaging can make, given that – as reported by Smithers Pira – packaging only typically represents less than 10% of a packaged products carbon footprint. 

However, the same organisation has forecast that the global packaging market will be worth about $997 billion by 2020. Furthermore, with packaging also being one of the most visible elements of a packaged product to a customer, there is understandably considerable pressure from a wide range of parties for packaging designs, materials and processes to continue embracing the latest sustainable developments. 

It, therefore, shouldn’t be any great surprise to you that in the EU alone, there are more than 30 sustainability and environmental protection directives, regulations, targets and programs that impact on packaging. Furthermore, according to a recent report by Zion Market Research, the sustainable packaging market is expected to reach $400 million by 2024. 

A key survey on UK packaging trends conducted by Smithers Pira asked packaging industry respondents to gauge the importance of various strategies in delivering packaging that furthered their sustainability goals. They rated the minimisation of packaging waste as the main element of their strategy, followed by recyclable materials, lightweight/down-gauging, materials from renewable or sustainable sources, and promoting packaging as a means to minimise food waste.

How is Rieke Packaging playing its part in maximising packaging sustainability? 

Our guiding principles here at Rieke Packaging are very much geared towards helping to leave behind a more sustainable world and a better environment than the one we found. 

To this end, we are committed to not only reducing the environmental impact of our own activities but also providing our employees with an environmentally conscious workplace and providing our customers with the expertise, advice and products to assist them in their own sustainability efforts.

Recent sustainability initiatives at Rieke Packaging have encompassed our company’s manufacturing processes, product design and facilities, with key developments including investment in more efficient equipment, the introduction of systems to minimise waste, and the redesign of shipping containers to enable more products to be carried in the same size container. 

We are delighted to have been able to add such new and sustainable products to our offering as ‘Smart Soap’ refills, ViseGrip® drum closures and TaperStack™ deep skirt closures. 

As consumers, retailers, governments, regulators, packaged product suppliers, environmental groups and non-government organisations all demand ever-more serious sustainable packaging commitments and innovations, Rieke Packaging remains one of the steadfast leaders in its field.