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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Green Manufacturing > Product Development > Manufacturing Packaging & Packing Solutions for Savings

The Greenest Package of All: Less!

Sustainable packaging strategies reduce costs of production through less, improve company sustainability and strengthen local economies.

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America went on a packaging binge in the 1980s and 90s. I was in the middle of it. I worked as a packaging designer for a consumer automotive filter company and designed packaging for air, fuel and oil filters that were private branded for major oil companies and mass retailers.

We struggled with the balance between the growing need for shelf life and visual appeal and the challenges of cost and manufacturing of the packaging itself. Then came shipping protection of the product. And shelf appeal. And more marketing pressures.

That was in the 1970s. I watched as packaging became more and more a marketing function and less about product protection. That trend is what turned my career from graphic design to writing about the environment.

Today, there's a growing sustainable packaging movement to cope with the damage plastic is doing to the environment, and the amount of transportation that's required in the globalization of manufacturing and retailing. And design that is sometimes less than ethical and respectful of a community's consumers.

So that's the backstory. Now for the solutions.

LESS

"One perfect word summarizes the sustainable packaging movment: less. If you source and convert less material, energy usage should go down, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Less packaging may allow you to improve transportation efficiencies and ultimately put less material into the waste stream. But how does one go about achieving -- less?" says Steve Sterling, contributing editor for Packaging World.

The issues that sustainable packaging addresses to create solutions to the status quo in taking material out of a package, according to traditional material manufacturers include stiffness and toughness of materials.

DIFFERENT

As new materials are developed and older conservation methods improved, it's not only the "design for less" that makes a difference, but the actual choice of materials also affect sustainability.

Petrochemicals are necessary for fuel at this point in our history, (but alternatives are being developed), but fossil fuels are not necessary for packaging. In fact, the pollution problems being created in our water supply, such as the Pacific Gyre which is a huge "island" of floating plastic in the center of the Pacific Ocean -- are all the reason we need to take immediate and significant steps away from petroleum based ingredients for packaging.

Alternatives include biobased plastics, recycled paper and reusable metals that can be modeled as containers that can be reused.

OPERATIONS

Sustainable manufacturing includes processes that minimize impact on the environment, which in turn forms our life support system.
  • Obtaining raw materials in a responsible manner (such as FSC certified wood materials)
  • Reduce manufacturing impact through improved productivity and efficiency and safe working environments
  • Promote local community stability and prosperity.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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