The Three R’s of Sustainable Packaging

10 October 2013
Posted by Aaron Thomas

Sustainable Packaging

Packaging is one of those processes which have traditionally been considered non-sustainable, mostly due to the use of non-degradable components for packaging purposes. However, with time and the global environmental issues becoming a cause of concern, manufacturers all across the globe are moving from plastic packaging to more eco-friendly degradable form of packaging. A term known as “sustainable packaging” or “green packaging.”

How to Ensure Sustainable Packaging

Sustainability has always been built on the three pillars or the three R’s namely, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.”


Contract packagers and packaging designers should ensure that the unnecessarily big packets are not made for even the smaller products. Reduction of the use of paper and plastic can cause a big impact if the bigger picture is taken into mind.


The design and sourcing of packaging components must be carried out using material that can be reused in the course of time. Avoiding non-degradable, plastic packaging is the first step towards reusing existing packaging resources.


Much of earth’s resources are non-renewable and thus wasting them puts a lot of strain on the already fragile ecosystem. Recycling the available resources, and thus putting them to use again, is the best move forward.

The Biggest Hurdle for Sustainable Packaging

Although sustainable packaging and use of alternate degradable sources for packaging purpose has seen around 20% growth in the last 5 years, it still encompasses a very small portion of all components produced when the overall packaging in the world is concerned. Amazingly, less than 5% of companies choose sustainable options. The biggest reason of is everyone’s unwillingness to pay extra for sustainable packaging.

But there are other reasons as well. For example, shelf life of product is often diminished with the use of sustainable films. Also, many people feel that the look and feel of sustainable packaging materials is inferior to
standard packaging.

However, with time, people’s mindset towards sustainable packaging is bound to change and the current stats are pointing in the right direction. As more sustainable materials become available, packaging companies, designers and suppliers may need to encourage customers to buy more eco-friendly materials. But until it is perfected, the one thing that must be ensured is that the primary function of packaging: to protect and preserve the contents of the product, is not forgotten.

What is the criterion for good sustainable packaging?

According to one leader in the packaging and environmental arenas, sustainable packaging materials can be designed in America and procured from worldwide locations (though common sense would indicate that shipping packaging supplies from Asia would offset any green benefit) as long as the packaging can meet these basic definitions.

Sustainable Packaging Key Points

Ask yourself:

  • Is the packaging beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle?
  • Does the packaging meet market criteria for performance and cost?
  • Is the packaging sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled using renewable energy?
  • Does the packaging maximize the use of renewable or recycled source materials?
  • Is the packaging manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices?
  • Is the packaging made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios?
  • Is the packaging physically designed to optimize materials and energy?
  • Is the packaging effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles?

So if you are sourcing greener packaging materials, ask yourself those questions and you will be a giant step ahead of your competition when it comes to things like Wal-Mart’s scorecard and other business and governmental entities that keep track of your company’s green initiatives.

Sustainable Packaging Buying Decisions

A recent packaging survey in an industry publication suggests that almost half of American consumers consider one or more sustainability factors when shopping for products in stores.

The survey suggests that not only are the products important but the packaging and the store where products are purchased also playing a role. This information could be invaluable to you when designing or sourcing packaging materials.

Some of the survey’s other findings include:

  • Almost 25% of the respondents consider two or more sustainability issues when making a purchase. Over 29% said that environmentally friendly packaging influenced the brands they bought, and 21% choose stores that carry a wide selection of products in sustainable packaging.
  • Sustainability factors are most important in the households of aging baby boomers and those with less than four people. Larger households with smaller budgets may choose products with lower prices instead of sustainability.
  • Failing to reach the 55-and-over market could be a problem for companies and retailers because they are missing a large part of their main consumer base.
  • Conscious consumers direct most of their buying to drug stores rather than supercenters.
  • High sustainability concerned customers have a higher purchase rate in food and beverages.

In terms of packaging, the survey recommends that companies and retailers do the following:

  • Utilize all opportunities to reduce packaging and leverage recycled materials, reusable, and biodegradable materials among their private label products.
  • Increase the availability of products with eco-friendly packaging.
  • Optimize shelf-space as the package size is reduced.
  • Signal all significant environmentally friendly packaging improvements.

As you can see, many factors go into making buying decisions for sustainable packaging.

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