Insert Image

When people tend to think of environmental waste one of the first things one might think of is packaging. With that being said packaging really offers of ways to help reduce our environmental impact. To be fair a lot of packaging does end up in landfill unfortunately and there are many industries where packaging is extremely over used, but in other cases well designed packaging serves as a tool to help us reduce the amount of waste we produce.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive but think of the idea like this; According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans roughly throw away 31 percent of all the food that is available to them. That is 133 billion pounds of food wasted every year. All of this was leads to massive inefficiency. To make up for that waste we have to create more to meet the existing demands. The packaging actually is one of the few ways we can attempt to be less wasteful in regards to food.

Proper packaging can actually lower the food industries environmental impact by reducing the amount of food loss and food waste produced. Food loss is any food that is damaged during its journey on the supply chain, and food waste is any food that is thrown away once it reaches the consumer. Packaging has drastically cut down on food loss by reducing the amount of damage to the product during shipment and at retail, this in return means more food makes it through quality control. Finding ways to improve the structure and decrease the exposure foods receive is a major long term energy saver that packaging is responsible for.

Packaging also leads to less food being thrown away by providing new and more accurate ways of labeling freshness.  Foods are often prematurely thrown away due to the implementation of a "best use date". This "best use" method is a subjective guess since there is no sure way to determine what kind of environmental stresses food might go through before and after it reaches a consumer. A company called Mimica Touch is aiming to solve this with a label that reacts with the amount of exposure food goes through. If the label goes through enough stress the physical appearance and become bumpy and indicates spoilage.

Food is not the only industry where packaging is reducing waste through. Other industries are focusing on how packaging can reduce material waste. In the case of liquids where a lot of the substance is left on the inner walls of the packaging, researchers have started implementing superhydrophobic surfaces on the inside of packaging to reduce the amount of leftover material. This, in turn, will greatly improve the efficiency for packaging within industries and packaging that consumers receive.

Interestingly enough even plastic packaging can have a positive environmental impact through the reduction of weight and strategic recycling. Plastic alternatives are on average 4.5 times heavier than plastics which result in higher energy expenditure during shipping. According to a study written by GUA in January 2014,  plastic usage leads to a 55% reduction in greenhouse emissions which roughly equates to a reduction in 4.3 million tons in CO2 emissions in Europe alone. Plastics also are much more versatile than other competing materials. Plastics have the remarkable ability to have amazing tensile strength and the ability to be reformed into a flexible material, as opposed to alternatives that don't have that versatility. A versatile material allows for less sourcing of virgin materials and also allows for a wide range of repurposing options.

Overall packaging is commonly viewed as environmentally negative, but if we start looking a little deeper packaging actually offers a glimmer of hope for reducing energy consumption. Realigning what our perception of packaging starts by viewing packaging as a resource tool to make environmental changes rather than something that is always environmentally damaging.