The choices pertaining to the sustainability of a packaging are therefore not limited to the sustainability of packaging materials. In addition to the material itself, the entire packaging process also affects the sustainability. It is important to take the various components of the packaging process into account when developing a sustainable product-packaging combination. This allows you to reduce the environmental impact of the product-packaging combination.
How is the packaging process structured?
The initial stages run from the production of the packaging material, including the supply of packaging materials or empty packaging, to the filling process. During the filling process, the product and the packaging are combined into a product-packaging combination.
Next, the product-packaging combination is packaged further in the packaging system. This packaging system usually consists of a pallet that holds a number of transport packaging materials that, in turn, hold the product-packaging combination. All this is transported to the retail location. Consumers buy the product-packaging combination. After using the product, the packaging type determines how consumers should dispose of the used packaging. Transport packaging and logistical aids are reused or disposed of as industrial waste.
When developing packaging materials, the focus is often on only a part of the packaging chain (indicated with green arrows). This section of the chain runs from the material production to the moment at which the packaging material is disposed of. For organizations looking to make their packaging materials more sustainable, this is the most insightful part of the chain. Corporations often work together well with the suppliers of their packaging materials and the buyers and retailers responsible for sales.
However, the remaining part of the chain, indicated with light-grey arrows in the illustration, also has a major impact on the sustainability of product-packaging combinations. This section of the chain runs from the disposal phase via raw materials to the production of packaging materials and closes the chain for a circular economy.
The Packaging chain
The image illustrates how raw materials are recycled and kept inside the packaging chain. Although the goal is to keep raw materials inside the chain as long as possible, the generation of waste streams is unavoidable. There are several reasons for that
Products may be lost because they are damaged during transport or due to spoilage because the packaging provides inadequate protection. In the light of sustainability, preventing product wastage is the key point of attention when developing a packaging. Avoiding product losses with adequate packaging is important because the environmental impact of the packaging usually only represents a small part of the total impact of the product-packaging combination as a whole.
There is a residual stream of packaging materials that cannot be recycled, either because the materials cannot be separated properly or because they are not recyclable. The challenge is to keep these waste streams as small as possible through design for recycling.
Packaging materials and process
When developing sustainable packaging materials, choosing the right material and packaging process is an important step. When choosing a material, you are basically also choosing a packaging process. This combination determines which packaging types you can produce.
Here is an example: suppose you want to package soup. You not only have to choose a material, for example glass, plastic or metal, but also a packaging type, for example a glass bottle, a glass jar, a plastic bag, or a metal can. Each of these options calls for a specific processing process, since filling a glass jar requires entirely different production lines than filling a flexible bag.
The choice for a sustainable packaging solution is therefore not only limited to the sustainability of packaging materials. In addition to the material itself, the packaging process and the logistical process also affect the sustainability. This section therefore contains both information about material selection and raw materials as well as points of attention for the packaging process, packaging systems, and logistics.