2019 certainly felt like a year of change – at the very least, the start of what could be a really important shift in the way both manufacturers and consumers understand, use and dispose of packaging.
We’ve all seen the shocking scenes on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and that ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has been built on further by high profile campaigners including Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Al Gore alongside groups like Extinction Rebellion. This has resulted in a significant shift in social psychology when it comes to the waste, recycling and environment.
But whilst this is a positive step, what is now necessary is to avoid misunderstanding ‘green promises’ made around certain types of supposedly sustainable packaging. Through my own experience in the packaging industry over the last 15 years (including the carton, metal and plastic industries), I’ve witnessed retailers, consumers and manufacturers all get lost down various rabbit holes. Phrases such as ‘plastic free’, ‘100% biodegradable’, ‘100% recyclable’ and ‘100% recycled content’ can be very misleading to the consumer, and oftentimes, not the goal that the manufacturer should be working towards.
Some packaging promises have been rushed out in response to media and public pressure, but with limited or no connection to realistic recycling outcomes. Each message may focus on a small section of the wider objectives to ‘be green’ – for example, labelling something ‘100% recyclable’ doesn’t mean that every bit of this material will be recycled, despite it technically being eligible to be marked as such.
One recent example is Mcdonald’s drinking straws – these are technically 100% recyclable. However, as soon as they are used, and contaminated with a drink such as milkshake or lemonade, they cannot be recycled. So, in truth, labelling them as ‘100% recyclable’ is an attempt to alleviate the concerns of the consumer, whilst making little to no improvements on recycling rates for that product.
My advice in setting your brand’s packaging objectives, is to really consider the purpose of your packaging – that is, to store, protect and preserve – but alongside an equal consideration for their disuse, reuse, disposal and recyclability.
Whether your company and/or brand operate in a retail or B2B market, consumers now expect to see truthful environmental credentials with reasonable statistics and long-term forecasts for positive environmental impact. Simply skirting around a great sounding but empty green promise is not a long-term plan. Committing to environmentally sustainable packaging design must be workable and genuine – which means it also cannot be rushed through to tick temporary boxes.
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P. Wilkinson Containers Ltd. Company No. 594284
Registered address & trading address: 20 Verney Road, London. SE16 3DY.
VAT No. GB 243 5343 77
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