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Packaging Design and Waste Hierarchy - Reject

Updated: May 9


We've all seen the picture and images, and we're all horrified at pollution in the sea and our environment, but we need to seriously think about all packaging not just plastic.

I'm frustrated to see people saying how wonderful some new "eco Packaging" solutions are but when you look at these solutions we don't actually need them. We're developing supposedly eco-friendly packaging solutions when no packaging is required. People think they are doing a great job swapping from plastic to another material when the packaging is just NOT NEEDED.

So I want you to really, really look at your packaging and see what you actually need.

We have to remember the biggest impact on our planet are climate change and loss of biodiversity. So this isn't a question with a simple answer, but we do have to focus on total resource reduction, not just plastic.

So why not apply these principles to every part of your business - energy, office waste, product use, cleaning products, etc.

I'll focus on packaging in this blog, but see how it can help in all your resource decision making and remember, when you do this you save money too.

If you're not sure - step back and determine what is the packaging doing?

Is it;

Protecting - is this protection needed? Or does the product have an inherent way of protecting itself? What is the carbon impact of the product i.e. has it taken more resource and energy to produce the product than the packaging. If the product will get damaged without this packaging then you can have a much bigger environmental impact by rejecting it. Look at your supply chain are their changes you can make so the packaging isn't needed, without increasing cost or environmental impact. Think outside the box, get someone with a fresh outlook to see something you might not be able to. Someone from a different site, department, local college, consultant, etc.

Preservation - does this product need preserving, what shelf life does it have inherently? What shelf life is really needed for the product? What abuse is it likely to be subjected to in the supply chain? We're increasing shelf-life to ensure less waste in the supply chain, but in some scenarios the product will always be purchased well under that shelf-life. If so, does it really need the level of preservation from the packaging? Or are there more eco-friendly ways of modifying the supply chain?

Containment - does you product need containing or does it have its own inherent containment properties. Milk will always need a bottle to contain it, but do apples need to be put in a 4 pack?

Convenience - many items of packaging are now produced for consumer convenience and where it is there to give a real need it should be applauded e.g. portion control, easy opening for those with hand impairments, reclose to reduce food waste - but when its just to make it easier for the consumer to pick up from the shelves we have to ask "is this packaging really necessary?" We have enough technology at the till to offer discounts for purchasing a larger quantity. So really consider does your product need to be multi packed.

information, selling etc - everyone is telling us to produce less packaging, but we're also being asked across all industries to label with more and more information. Many of it quite rightly needed, but is all of it? The problem is that as we put more and more information onto our packaging, the less the customer/consumer reads it. They have information overload. Review the information on your packaging - what is a legal requirement and what can you do to reduce the information and potentially reject the packaging and just put on a tag, or remove a total layer of packaging.

Think of it in a step by step approach and not only can you help the environment you can reduce cost to.

Find below an example of a product that we don't really need;

image courtesy of Wikipedia

Six pack ring for cans - I'm sure you've seen the horrendous pictures of how these injure wildlife. Though in % terms they are only a small part of the overall pollution problem.

A beer company in America has come up with a solution to replace these rings with ones made from the waste from the brewing industry, and its biodegradable and I quote "can be eaten by turtles".

It sound like an amazing idea and lots of organisations and environmental groups have been singing its praises.

Click on the link to find out more:

Image Saltwater brewery

I really do commend the idea and the innovation, however everyone has missed the point. These 6 pack rings are not needed in the first place. A person can place 6 cans in a basket at the store, take them to the counter and then put them in their reusable bag (that they will use 100's of times to reduce its environmental impact) to take home or to their location of choice.

Are people really incapable of doing this? This is an example of convenience for convenience sake. The fundamental idea is brilliant, but this is not made from 100% breweries waste, it has other materials too and most brewery waste has an outlet such as animal field.

I just use this as an example of how sometimes we are so focused on an idea we don't step away and go " actually do we need it?".

In the meantime Carlsberg has removed their six pack rings and replaced with glue.

Image Carlsberg press office.

This does use substantially less resource, and for those who insist having 6 cans linked together is an essential convenience, it's certainly a better solution. Resource is substantially reduced and the level of adhesive will not contaminate the recycling stream. However, I'd still argue it's not really needed. Even though its a small amount of glue on each can, when you consider how much Carlsberg is sold, it will still be tonnes of adhesive being produced. Yet again resource being used for something we don't really need.

Read article on this here;

It is a difficult balancing act, because at the end of the day, whatever size your business, you are there to make a living and you don't want to disadvantage yourself from your competition.

Are you brave enough to challenge the norm and break free of expectations?

Good luck, we need people to break the stereotypes and push things forward.

Next weeks blog we'll be discussing Reduce.

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