eco-friendly packaging box

The journey to maximising sustainability in packaging throughout the value chain needs a concerted and unrelenting effort from everyone – retailers, the industry, government and end-users; so says John Garner, Head of Business Development, at Antalis Packaging.

It is rare for me to go to a customer meeting and sustainability not be near the top of the agenda! It’s often driven by greater awareness in the general public and consumer choice – however, the perception and the reality rarely meet.

That education, the pressure required to enable real change, and ensuring that businesses and end-users are informed enough to choose the right packaging solution falls to all of us in the industry.

On education, our task is huge. The vitriol in the public about plastics, particularly single-use plastics, is so strong that it is tough to defeat. And some businesses would rather bow to that than have a more informed and potentially challenging discussion with their customers. Sometimes plastics are good; and are still the most sustainable way to go. It’s more sustainable to pack something well in plastic once, than it is to pack something in a supposedly ‘greener’ transit packaging which fails and generates returns, creating more transit miles in the supply chain, and therefore more CO2 and environmental impact than using the right packaging for the job first time around.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t look to substitute plastics. We have many customers utilising our Smart Packaging Centre and our packaging technologists to achieve this. Or they come with ‘sustainability’ as a goal, but without a plan for how, so lean on our expertise. We can make their packaging reusable (either through returns or closed-loop supply chains); reduce their packaging – regularly reengineering the blank size of boxes, or reducing reliance on void fill with appropriately designed solutions; or, of course, help the customer select recyclable or recycled materials.

On that final point – ‘recyclable’ materials – we all need to work across the industry to put pressure on local authorities and central government to work much harder to upgrade our recycling and waste handling infrastructure across the country. So much of the materials sold are labelled as recyclable, which is technically true, but also has an element of ‘green-washing’ about it as the facilities to recycle some products are few and far between. We work with our customer base so they understand this, but far more end-user education is needed to drive real investment from government.

The final element that we must lead as an industry is in development of innovative new products. In the last year the vast majority of our new product development and investment has been in sustainable solutions. Noting the push from food retailers and food subscription services for easy to recycle solutions, we unveiled the WrapPak® Protector, a paper-based solution that keeps products cold in transit. We have paper-based postal bags with cushioning, bubble-wrap alternatives, recycled corrugate solutions and most things a consumer would need to develop a green product strategy.

And if all else fails and a sustainable product cannot be found, we’re working with the World Land Trust to offer carbon-balancing for a brand’s packaging waste. This simple scheme ensures that at-risk areas of rain forest and endangered ecologies are protected – assuring the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and giving assurance that the brand is responsible and ‘doing it’s bit’ in a credible and authentic way.

All the above goes to say is that, as far as I can see, there’s no silver bullet for a problem that we all need to face in to, but one thing is for sure: we can’t pass the buck and wait for someone or something to fix it. We all need to work every day, in every way, to have an impact wherever we can. The buck stops with all of us.

For help creating sustainable packaging solutions for your business, arrange a free packaging consulation with one of our experts.