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Home » Sustainable Packaging » Sustainable packaging: why measuring environmental footprint is the only way to secure a greener future

Hery Henry

Head of Sustainability and Marketing, Wipak

In the UK, up to 50% of consumers say they are willing to pay a slightly higher price for more sustainable packaging.

However, Head of Sustainability and Marketing at packaging company, Wipak, Hery Henry, warned the consumer’s best intentions are not always well informed.

“People are worried about the oceans and the turtles,” he said. “They want to help, but the result is a movement against all plastics, when there are so many cases in which any other option is worse for the environment.  

“What will keep people from making a change is not knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt which packaging is actually good for the environment. They would rather avoid plastic completely, without really understanding there is huge nuance.”

Measuring sustainability

In order to understand which packaging is truly better for the environment, it is necessary to do a life cycle assessment of a package over its entire lifecycle, or even better induce a full life-cycle assessment to consider different environmental factors additional to carbon emissions to get the full picture.

“It is ridiculous to say paper, aluminium or glass is better,” Henry explained. “You don’t know until you have measured each particular case. Only then can the consumer make an informed choice around what is good, or comparatively better, for the environment. For instance, glass bottles are well recycled, but they weigh about 10 times more than plastic, so there are questions around the energy costs and logistics of recycling them.”

In some cases, the energy cost of producing a supposedly environmentally-friendly packaging alternative is so high that it outweighs any subsequent benefit.

The environmental impact of packaging might be affected by the sourcing and the production process, the machinery used, how far it has to be transported, and how it is stored.

 “We can only improve what we can measure, so we must measure the environmental footprint of our packaging throughout its lifecycle.”

Obstacles to sustainability

Another problem is the variation in packaging. While so many different materials, or combinations of materials, are used, it is difficult for recycling infrastructure to keep up. Sorting, collection and recycling facilities are not always in place for certain types of materials, or small volumes of them.

For the consumer, it can be difficult to keep track of what constitutes sustainable packaging, with confusing labelling and mixed messages on what is recyclable.

We can only improve what we can measure, so we must measure the environmental footprint of our packaging throughout its lifecycle.

However, Henry explained, “What we can say, with some certainty is that everybody in the value chain, and consumers likewise, have to take responsibility to make a change. We are introducing efficient solutions, reduced material consumption, recyclable solutions, mono-materials, bio-based materials and paper composites – choosing the best solutions at a time.

“But the best packaging depends entirely on its application, on what is inside. You should package as leanly and as cleanly as you possibly can; enough to protect the product adequately, but never more than that.”

He acknowledged there are no simple answers. “It is about going product by product, one by one, changing one little thing at a time. I see more and more people wanting to contribute, and it’s fun to be part of that journey.”

Wipak, a supplier of efficient and sustainable packaging solutions and services, has developed a browser-based tool for its customers to measure the environmental impact of their packaging, and find an alternative with a lower environmental footprint. In addition to a number of highly innovative new raw materials, Wipak has the possibility to cover packaging with an invisible  Digimarc® barcode, which greatly facilitates scanning in store and sorting for recycling.

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