Sustainable packaging: Is it possible?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Is the idea of sustainable packaging a possibility or is it but a myth?

The truth is that it all very much depends and it is not so much sustainable packaging but less packaging that will make it all more sustainable.

We did with far less packaging in the 1960s and 1970s then we do to day and we all seem to have done fine then and no one seems to have had any ill effects from no packaging or less packaging than today.

Our milk we bought loose then still by going to the store with little metal milk churns and other containers and at home we pasteurized it by heating it to boiling point.

Dried pulses were bought loose and so were other goods and our sweets came from large glass jars in the shops and were brought home – if ever they got that far – in paper bags.

In addition to that we then still had glass bottles with deposit on them which you returned to the store to either get the money back or, if you bought new lemonade, beer, or whatever, you did not have to pay deposit again. It is not rocket science and we must get back to that way of doing things again, including the selling of many products loose, with people bringing along their own containers to be filled up.

The only real way in which packaging can become (more) sustainable is if industry reduces the amount of packaging and if industry returned to using more cardboard as packaging than plastic. The way things are at present most packaging does not come anywhere near being sustainable and that includes plastic made from plants and plat derivatives. It is still plastic.

Whether it is PET made from plants, as in Coca Cola's attempt even though the so-called plant bottle is only 30% plat-based plastic with the remainder being recycled and, predominately, virgin plastic, or Ecover with its bottles which are, basically, a polyehtylene made from sugar cane waste. It is and remains plastic and the same problems remain as with other plastics, bar, maybe, that there are no hazardous chemicals that leach into the environment when those plastics are recycled or landfilled.

Packaging can only become and be sustainable if either it is made from materials that are or is said packaging can be reused time and again. And, where that may not be possible right now a different reuse could be designed into the product.

While children always seem to, almost instinctively, find a reuse purpose for a cardboard box, a plastic container, etc. many adults seems to have lost their imagination and can't, at least not anymore in our age, come up with any reuse ideas, bar a few of them; the adults that is as well as the ideas.

So, let's give some them some, right there on the package or even give them a little booklet with ideas as to the reuse of this or that packaging. It is not – and yes, here comes my favorite term again – rocket science. It has been done before as well.

© 2012