Sustaining change in the packaging industry

Hans Oerlemans, General Manager, Ovato

Sustainability isn’t just a buzz word or a fad, it’s something that’s of increasing concerning for the majority of Australians. A recent Nielsen study found that 81 per cent of respondents felt that “companies should help improve the environment”, while most also said they would change their habits “to reduce their impact on the environment”. Furthermore, 77 per cent cited environmental issues as a major concern to their household.

With more and more Australians voicing concerns about the state of the environment, businesses are feeling the pressure. One area in which government and business have come together to tackle sustainability head-on is more sustainable packaging practices.

Agent of change

In September 2018, the Australian Government joined forces with leading businesses country wide to sign off on the 2025 National Packaging Targets. The targets are a series of measures for representatives in the packaging, retail, logistics, manufacturing, recycling and waste management industries to better manage packaging waste. Businesses including ALDI, Coca-Cola Amatil, Coles, Goodman Fielder, Nestlé, Unilever and Woolworths have signed on in support.

The targets include making 100 per cent of Australia’s packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 or earlier, while single-use plastic packaging will be phased out “through design, innovation or the introduction of alternatives.”

Australian businesses need to make changes towards their packaging practices if they are to meet the obligations laid out in the Australian Packaging Covenant, the document that sets out how governments and businesses share the responsibility for managing the environmental impacts of packaging in Australia. However, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

What’s old is new again

If we’re being realistic, it’s unlikely that plastic will release its stranglehold on the packaging industry any time soon. It’s lightweight, strong and easily moulded. Transitioning away from it would be expensive for many brands. This is despite the fact that only a third of plastic packaging waste in Australia is recycled, according to a study conducted by the University of Technology Sydney and commissioned by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO). There’s also serious plastic pollution of the world’s oceans, which are estimated to contain 15–51 trillion pieces of plastic.

If you’re committing to using plastics in your packaging, it’s imperative to make sure that they’re properly recyclable, and just as importantly, labelled correctly. In order to avoid customer confusion around what can and can’t be recycled, it’s worthwhile adopting a clear labelling system such as the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL).

More than one way to package

If, instead, you’ve decided to move away from plastics for something that’s more friendly to the planet, there are a range of more sustainable options.

One example is the use of folding cartons for your packaging, which offers several advantages over plastic. Firstly, cartons have a strength and rigidity that make them easy to stack and store when they’re full of product. Secondly, it’s easy to create a bespoke design on the packaging that makes your product really pop on the shelves. Thirdly and most importantly, they’re better for the environment.

Folding cartons use paper pulp that’s 100 per cent recyclable, the scraps from their manufacture can be recycled and the paper itself can be sourced from renewable timber sources. All in all, a great alternative option to plastic packaging for the environmentally concerned business.

Emissions efficiency

It’s also worth exploring any emissions efficiencies that can be found when you’re creating your packaging.

For example, folding cartons are less energy intensive to produce than plastics and easier to transport. When broken down, they’re thin, they weigh very little, and there’s a minimum of bulk involved in moving them.

To further cut down on emissions, housing printing, packaging and distribution in the one location offers huge efficiencies. The closer you are, the more you can provide an energy and pollution efficient delivery program instead of transporting weighty packaging long distances using fossil fuel burning vehicles.

Thinking small and specific

Introducing agility to your packaging production also delivers several sustainability wins.

Smaller runs of packaging production are completed more frequently and with greater accuracy. This means you’re reducing the amount of waste being generated compared to a larger, more energy-intense production run. Smaller runs also make stock control easier, as you’re not required to store or transport as much product, reducing or even eliminating the need to rent or own large (and expensive) real estate to house the overs.

A clearer future

With Australia’s largest supermarket chains abandoning single-use plastic bags, and ALDI committing to reduce plastic packaging by 25 per cent by 2025, it’s clear that there is a wind of change blowing through Australian packaging practices. Pressure is likely to continue to build as customers choose to shop with businesses who operate ethically and sustainably. Those businesses will inevitably look to their suppliers to work with them in operating more sustainably, beginning with their packaging practices. Now is the time to look at where you can adopt more environmentally thoughtful practices to stay ahead of the curve.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you discover more sustainable packaging practices