Sustainable Packaging: Innovative Solutions to Learn From

Sustainable packaging is a $150 billion industry that is expected to grow over the next three years as consumers gravitate toward businesses who consider the social and environmental impacts of their operations.

Here are a few well-known corporations who have made changes to their packaging:mcdonalds bag

  • McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants have switched from bleached napkins and bags to natural paper with water-based dyes. The new designs are easier to recycle and healthier for both young and elderly customers.
  • Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Tim Hortons sell re-useable mugs and tumblers to their customers. These options not only reduce packaging costs, but also promote their brands and increase customer loyalty through discount programs. Starbucks has also committed by 2015 to have 100% of its cups made from recycled-content.plantbottle
  • Coca-Cola has been selling Dasani water in its trademarked PlantBottle packaging since 2011. PlantBottles are created with plant-based materials and require less petroleum to produce than traditional plastic bottles. (The company has also been in the news recently for their new commercial showcasing soda bottles made of ice.)
  • Dell has saved over $18 million dollars and eliminated 20 million pounds of packaging waste through reducing the size of their packaging by 12% and increasing its recyclable content. Dell is an innovator worth following when it comes to sustainable supply chains; they have committed to 100%-waste-free packaging by 2020.

Your business can learn from these global mega-corporations and leverage their innovations to save money, reduce waste, and turn packaging to be more environmentally-friendly. Consider hiring a sustainability consultant to help you with your packaging and purchasing practices.

Boxed water packaging – is it a better solution than plastic?

Here’s a statistic that you can’t water down: About 67 million plastic water bottles get tossed out each day, and, according to a piece by Dr. Joseph Mercola, “only 10 percent of these water bottles are ever recycled.”  The remaining 90 percent end up in landfills, and plastic takes thousands of years to decompose.

According to Dr. Mercola, drinking boxed waterwater from a plastic container “poses serious risks to you and your family.” Choosing plastic exposes you to chemicals like BPA and phthalates that have been linked to, among other things, to a wide range of developmental and reproductive problems.

What resources go into producing all that waste? According to, about “1.5 million barrels of oil – enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year – are used to make plastic water bottles.” That does not include the fuel burnt in transporting the empty bottles to the water source and the filled bottles to the consumers.

One Grand Rapids, Mich., company, with the eponymous title, “Boxed Water Is Better LLC,” manufactures and sells boxed water containers.  Their claim is that their container is far more eco-friendly: “About 76% of the box is from a renewable resource, trees.”

They harvest their raw material from “certified, well-managed forests,” and their boxes are recyclable. The Carton Council, a group of carton manufactures, whose goal is to keep valuable carton empties from ending up in landfills, would welcome wider use of boxed water, because over 74 percent of most cartons are made from recyclable paperboard. Given these facts, boxed water is a more environmental friendly packaging material than plastic bottles.

Is Plant Based Packaging a Good Idea?

bio packagingAn emerging trend in the packaging world is to use plant-based packaging or ‘bio-based’ packaging. This material has sparked academic, industry, and philosophical debate about whether adding “packaging” to the many uses for food stuffs is a good idea.  Yes, plants are a renewable resource, but with the several competing uses of these resources (food for human consumption, feed for animals, ethanol, biodiesel, and traditional burning fuel), is packaging the best use for possible food or energy products? Most corn and soy in the U.S. is also of a genetically modified variety, leading to a whole other set of questions about what is a “sustainable” bio-material for packaging.

A good article “The Challenges of Using the Earth to Grow Energy” by sustainability consultant, Alan AtKisson talks in more depth about these packaging challenges with bio-based materials.

To learn about some of the companies that are using bio-based materials see this article by GreenBiz, “Five Global Companies to Push Plant Based Packaging”.

Innovations in Plastic Packaging to be More Sustainable

packaging More than 25 million tons of plastic packaging is sold in the US every year, less than five percent gets recycled. Although plastic packaging is not always recyclable it is lightweight and thus, reduces transportation emissions when product is distributed. Changes are slowly being made in the plastics industry to help reduce waste, improve recycled content and use of materials.

 According to one article, Innovations in Plastic Packaging Help Lighten Environmental Footprint the changes will result in:“lighter packaging, less fuel to transport products, reduced use of natural resources, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and less waste.”

A company called SmartCycle processes recycled content from beverage bottles to make packaging for food, box or thermoformed applications. Through creating a use for recycled bottles, the company is able to support recycling efforts while utilizing energy-saving manufacturing process.

Of course, reducing plastic materials altogether in packaging is ideal but not necessarily feasible for some manufacturers. If plastics packaging must be used it is important to choose plastics that can easily be recycled, such as resin numbers 1, 2 and 5. Or utilize plastic packaging that uses recycled-content. And finally, consider reducing the amount of plastic content used in the packaging as the bottled water industry started to do back in 2011.

 For more information about sustainable packaging and other eco-friendly trends for your business please contact us.



Four Packaging Design Considerations to Improve Sustainability

packagingChoosing sustainability packaging can have its challenges. Businesses want packaging that protects their product that also is environmentally friendly and reduces waste. When choosing sustainability packaging, there are four areas to consider:

  1. Material Type. Consider packaging that is made from recycled content, is compostable, or recyclable. According to a Dupont study of packaging professionals, 65% say their efforts are focused on design for recyclability or use of recycled content; 57% are focused on weight reduction; 41% rely on renewable or bio-based materials and 25% say they are focused on compostable materials.
  1. Elimination and Reduction. Determine whether packaging materials can be reduced or eliminated to increase efficiency. Other ways to impact material efficiency are to design reusable and recyclable packaging.
  2. Production Process. The production process is another critical consideration. This includes renewable energy use, efficient water use, and efficient manufacturing processes, throughout the production of the packaging.
  3. Package Formats. It is important to consider package format in packaging design such as bottles, cartoon, pouch, cans, or bag in the box as some examples. In choosing packaging materials, more and more companies are looking at options with greater recyclability, such as bottles and cans.  Currently, non-recyclable packaging currently has very limited end of life choices outside a landfill or incinerator, and leaves consumers with fewer options for environmental stewardship.

For more information on sustainable design considerations, download Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging

FTC Revises Green Guides on Sustainability Marketing Claims

FTC logoIn response to businesses making unsubstantiated claims, the Federal Trade Commission attempted to level the playing field for the honest businesses by implementing revisions to their Green Guides on marketing claims, toughening standards for marketing products as green.

Looking around, it’s easy to find companies using broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims such as “green” or “eco-friendly”. The FTC is encouraging businesses to avoid such broad statements as they can be difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate.

When marketers do make product claims, the FTC is requiring marketers to substantiate those claims. For example, if a product is marketed as “degradable”, evidence must be provided that it will indeed entirely break down and return to nature within a year after disposal.

The new Green Guides revisions also include sections on certifications and seals of approval, carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, made with renewable energy claims, and made with renewable materials claims.  On the other hand, they have declined to take any stance on the use of the terms “sustainable”, “organic” or “natural”. For example, in the case of “organic“, guidance for use of the term has already been provided by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By marketing with these new guidelines in mind, you are taking part in the promotion of honest business practices at the same time. Please contact us if you want more information on how the FTC’s new Green Guides will impact your business.

Sustainable Packaging Design Options and Choices

Even without considering the benefits of recycling on the environment (of which there are many), there are more benefits beyond that in sustainable packaging.  Consider the matter of cost.  The expense of packaging can be a major cost driver; indeed, an article from Environmental Leader reports that “sustainability will replace cost as one of the packaging industry’s major challenges” in the next ten years.  Fortunately there are resources available for those who want to explore sustainable packaging in earnest.

In 2012 Deloitte released a paper entitled “Thinking outside the box–Throw away your current approach to packaging” which includes several ideas for those who want to make the shift to sustainability.  This includes a “spectrum of sustainable packaging opportunities”

  • “Passive” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with environmentally-friendly ones
  • “Active” materials switch–changing traditional packaging materials with those that require a change in consumer behavior (like reusable packaging)
  • Packaging and product design changes–changing the packaging to require fewer materials or fewer steps
  • Supply chain process redesign–to reduce packaging needs

In the realm of the “passive” materials switch, Dell sustainable packagingan article about Dell’s switch to sustainable packaging catches the eye.  It discusses the use of bamboo, a high-tensile strength grass that is rapidly renewable.  It promotes healthy soil, grows 24 inches a day, and proper harvesting means that it doesn’t require replanting.  Plus, the treatment of bamboo doesn’t involve the dumping of toxic chemicals, and it can be dried in the sun.

The same site giving us information on Dell’s notbox sustainable packagingpackaging also gives us news about an “active” materials switch.  The Notbox Company, which has been serving the European community for several years, will be bringing its reusable packaging products to the United States.  According to Notbox, their reusable packages can make 20 or more trips, which is well more than the single-use-then-discard nature of regular cardboard boxes.

But, of course, it isn’t all about the cost benefit ratio when it comes to sustainable packaging.  It’s estimated that packaging makes up about one-third of municipal waste in the United States.  Considering the looming crisis in some states of running out of landfill space, that number becomes a bit too large to ignore.

For more information on this and other ways to green up your business, please contact us.

Sustainable Packaging: Post Consumer Plastic Pallets

Businesses use pallets to provide a sturdy surface to stack and ship goods. The vast majority of these pallets, or skids, are wooden and are usually stacked up behind retail stores, warehouses or factories.  The pallet industry uses a significant amount of U.S. hardwood resources. Beyond the obvious issue that they use up so much of a valuable natural resource, wood pallets present other difficulties. Oak is the primary hardwood used for pallets. Oak is heavy and pests sometimes travel with the wood. Wood is flammable, so fires may start or grow larger where they are stored.

For a few years now, there are manufacturers who produce plastic pallets from 100% post-consumer waste plastic. Although these plastic pallets are about double the cost, they also last between 5-10 times as long and can be recycled again after their useful life. Other benefits include resistance to pests and being lighter in weight.

Here are some manufacturers of plastic pallets:

For more information about plastic vs. wood pallets,

Contact us for more information on sustainable packaging and other resources that will save both money and the environment.

Packaging Innovation: A Plastic Bottle that Uses Ocean Plastic Trash

Method, a company that manufacturers green cleaning products, is going to launch a new plastic bottle that actually uses plastic waste located in our oceans. They worked with Envision Plastics to figure out how to collect, reuse and manufacture a bottle using 25% of the plastic from the ocean waste. This is a great example of a company applying innovative solutions to our global problems. Learn more about their sustainable journey from the founder’s blog entry, The Next Generation.

To learn more about the garbage patch issue, visit  Greenpeace.

Reduce Your Plastic Use and Improve your Health and the Environment

There has been a lot written about plastic lately. Not only is it harmful to the environment but overwhelming studies are finding plastic harmful to your health. Consider these facts;

  • Plastics production produces 14 percent of toxic air emissions in the U.S., and each plant emits an average of 300-500 gallons of contaminated wastewater per minute. (It’s Easy Being Green book)
  • 100 million plastic bottles dumped in US every year. Each bottle will take over 1,000 years to biodegrade.  (SIGG)
  • BPA (a plastic hardening agent prevalent in bottles, cups and lined tin cans) is so prevalent in food packaging and other consumer items that prior research has detected its presence in at least 90% of Americans. A group of 20 San Francisco residents had 66% less BPA in their urine after three days on a diet of fresh, organic and unpackaged food, scientists found. (Silent Spring Institute)
  • 500 billion plastic bags or wraps are thrown away in America each year and are created with 12 million barrels of oil. (

Find out the facts about plastic for yourself with these resources;

Plastic Disclosure is a great website that offers facts and information about the harmful effects of plastic.

GreenBiz released this article a few weeks ago about the plastic use in corporations.

New York Times released this article on the issue of plastic and waste

If you want a more lighthearted approach, view the movie Bag It, that was released early in 2011. It discusses all the issues with plastic. For a review, go to this blog entry.