Consumer definitions of eco-design will differ from those offered by policy makers.
Eco-design has become a buzzword du jour among many of the groups looking to ensure a sustainable packaging value chain. These groups include industry, public policy makers, NGOs, solid waste professionals, and the general public. If you asked the typical consumer to define an eco-designed package, the odds are the answer would be “one that was recyclable, made from recycled materials, or compostable/biodegradable.”
However, when you take the life cycle approach recommended by the G7 in its latest Leadership Recommendations; the US EPA in its Sustainable Materials Management guidelines; and the European-led concept of The Circular Economy, you would come up with a much different definition of the role of eco-design: to ensure that packaging delivers maximum product value with minimum economic, environmental, and social waste.
This new definition is very much in line with what government, academic, and business groups have been saying for years about resource conservation: step one is to reduce material and energy use (source reduction and reuse), step two is recycling and composting, and step three is energy recovery. Designers should consider these options by knowing how their materials are impacting resource use across the supply chain.
Within this context of eco-design, packaging also plays a critical role by preventing waste of the far greater resources used to produce, transport, and store the food and other goods contained within. Thus, those of us in the packaging value chain must work harder to reverse the popular notion that a better environment starts with less packaging waste. A better environment starts with less waste, period. And sometimes a bit more packaging ensures that less lifecycle waste is actually created.
Finally, we as an industry must do more to promote not just recycling and recyclability, but ways in which smart material selection can increase resource conservation. Ironically, through the higher value strategies of reduction and reuse, a truly eco-designed package should actually reduce the need for recycling. Doing so would in fact increase recycling rates by reducing the amount needed to be recycled, while allowing the actual amount being recycled to either grow or remain the same.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020