For years, many companies have been seeking to reduce both costs and their carbon footprints by either switching their packaging to more eco-friendly materials, reducing the amount of packaging or both.
Companies such as Starbucks and Nike are known for their use of eco-friendly packaging, but today, more companies are joining the movement. In turn, the amount of waste from product packaging has decreased, industries are reducing costs and the earth is — and will continue to — benefit.
How much waste is awareness of eco-friendly packaging saving? In Europe from 1998 to 2008, 27 states decreased by 43 percent the amount of packaging waste either going to landfills, according to a report by the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN), a trade organization for companies in the packaging industry. EUROPEN cites higher recycling rates and other forms of packaging waste recovery as reasons for the trend.
In the United States, the statistics are somewhat dimmer for overall waste. In 2009, 243 million tons of garbage was generated in the U.S., down slightly from 2000, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But recycling and composting kept 82 million tons of material from landfills in 2009, up from 15 million tons in 1980, according to EPA reports.
To continue the decline of packaging waste in landfills, sustainable packaging is becoming more commonplace across industries. International cosmetics company Estee Lauder created its Environmental Packaging Design Protocol in 2001, which, according to Estee Lauder’s website, “requires developers to ensure that all new packaging fulfills applicable environmental criteria in each country where it will be sold.” In addition, the policy prohibits use of PVC in product packaging if feasible, and requires wood fiber be sourced from recycled paper or fiber products.
Mattel recently listened after Greenpeace launched a protest of the company’s use of a supplier that purportedly contributes to deforestation in Indonesia. Mattel announced the end of its relationship with the supplier and stated that the company’s future policy will require packaging suppliers to “commit to sustainable forestry management practices.” Mattel will incorporate into the policy wood-based products in its toy line, such as paper and books.
How are various industries playing a role in the trend toward eco-friendly packaging? One of the largest food industry representatives, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, released a report in March, “Reducing Our Footprint: The Food, Beverage and Consumer Products Industry’s Progress in Sustainable Packaging,” that states that from 2005 to 2010, GMA members diverted more than 1.5 billion pounds of packaging from landfills. The goal is to reduce packaging waste by an additional 2.5 billion pounds by 2020. Among the packaging improvements the report cites:
A beverage manufacturer introduced a thinner plastic bottle, eliminating 2.45 billion pounds of packaging from 1999 to 2009.
A canned food manufacturer redesigned its packaging to eliminate 700,000 pounds of PVC plastic. This has enabled the company to ship 25 percent more units per truckload, resulting in 150 fewer trucks on the road annually and saving 14,000 gallons of fuel.
Another company reduced its landfill waste by 20.7 million pounds and its greenhouse gas emissions by 11 million pounds.
What’s on the horizon for environmentally friendly packaging? This past spring, several major corporations banded together to form the American Institution for Packaging and the Environment (Ameripen). Based in East Lansing, Mich., the organization was founded by heavyweights such as Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg’s and Dow Chemical. Its mission, similar to its European counterpart EUROPEN, will be to advocate on issues related to environmental issues in packaging, and collaborate with existing industry organizations on research and data collecting.
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Photo: zakwitnij/Flickr; Grocery Manufacturers Association