Everyone who knows me will tell you how much I enjoy talking and writing about sustainable packaging. I especially appreciate it when I have an opportunity to reach a new audience. I am pleased to announce I have been invited to write for Environmental Leader, which has always been one of my favorite green news web sites for packaging and business professionals.
My first, and hopefully not my last, article (“In Packaging Sustainability, Half a Tree is Better than None”) appeared yesterday in Environmental Leader and it touched on the topic of green perceptions that often undermine the very cause they attempt to promote. The one in particular I focused in on is the idea of all-or-nothing solutions. Once we accept the fact that the environmental problem is not about to go away tomorrow, we become an advocate of incremental progress. Yes, there will always be the type of well intentioned, green minded individual who wants to ban this or get rid of that, but in many cases the idea is not popular, practical or even possible.
The Only Absolutes in Sustainable Packaging
We can debate compostable versus biodegradable, paper versus plastic, composition versus recycled content, or just about any other two points in sustainability, but in my mind there are only four things that will always prove to be true and green:
1. The perfect green solution is no packaging at all – However, since most of us are unwilling to sacrifice freshness, safety, prolonged shelf life, or for that matter, convenience, we soon realize in the vast majority of cases, packaging is not optional.
2. The second best eco friendly solution is reusable packaging – If you can’t eliminate it, design it to be used over and over and over to maximize the benefit and minimize the carbon footprint. Gratefully, we are seeing an end to the “use once and dispose” mentality that has permeated the packaging industry since its inception.
3. Packaging materials that can easily be recycled are the third best solution – There are still way too many laminates and multi-layer materials being promoted as green that are not. My guideline is relatively simple – if you can’t easily separate the materials involved and recycle them without having to ship them somewhere (more carbon footprint) for processing, they do not qualify as “easily recycled.” Unfortunately, a large portion of the population will discard them before following the required green process.
4. Recycled content is always greener than virgin content – If you buy into #3 above, this one should be easy. Whether we are talking about plastic or paper products, the proof is overwhelming that it costs less to produce plastic bags, corrugated boxes, or almost any other packaging staple from recycled stock. The energy and water savings alone put this one beyond question.
I am convinced that most everything else that is good in sustainability is likely a variation of those four, simple thoughts. I am pleased now to be sharing my common sense perspectives on Environmental Leader and I encourage you to read and debate if you care to. After all, isn’t that part of what we find most interesting about the field of sustainability? There is constant change and always room for discussion because there are no perfect or quick solutions.