Packaging – it’s one of those little life necessities that you probably don’t notice until it stops working. You know, that moment when your to-go cup of soda has a leak or that breakable item you were waiting for in the mail arrives to you in pieces?
From a Styrofoam cup that holds morning jolts of caffeine to packing and shipping materials, packaging is found everywhere, in almost every industry.
According to a recent study by Pike Research, it is estimated that the worldwide market for packaging is currently valued at $429 billion and is expected to top $500 billion in the next five years.
With environmental concerns on the rise, the packaging industry is now under more pressure than ever to become as environmentally friendly as possible, but without sacrificing quality of its products.
To bring the packaging industry into a new green era, several companies and organizations have been creating and raising awareness and support for sustainable packaging – packaging materials that still do their job, but with less cost to the environment and, ideally, businesses and consumers.
Sustainable Packaging on the Rise
Because of the recent demand placed on the packaging industry to create more eco-friendly packaging solutions and products, the same study predicts that sustainable packaging will count for nearly 32 percent of the packaging industry by 2014.
This is up significantly from the current 21 percent of the market held by sustainable packaging. But, what exactly is sustainable packaging, and what does its creation mean for the environment and the economy? According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), sustainable packaging must meet a variety of requirements that make it eco-friendly while still being cost-efficient and useful for businesses and consumers.
“The Sustainable Packaging Coalition envisions a world where all packaging is sourced responsibly, designed to be effective and safe throughout its life cycle, meet market criteria for performance and cost, is made entirely using renewable energy and, once used, is recycled efficiently to provide a valuable resource for subsequent generations. In summary: a true cradle-to-cradle system for all packaging,” cites the SPC Web site.
Many companies that support sustainable packaging utilize the cradle-to-cradle system, which proposes that products are designed with the environment in mind, considering all phases of the product lifecycle, from creation to the products eventual demise, according to the SPC.
SPC membership has grown to nearly 200. Some of these companies include:
Eco-Friendly Plastics Lead the Trend
According to the EPA, plastics make up 17 percent of the total waste stream in the U.S.
Containers and packaging materials make up the biggest category of plastic products, according to the EPA, which cites a growing trend in biodegradable plastic technologies that have begun replacing fossil fuel-based plastics with plant-based plastics.
One such company that is at the forefront of sustainable plastics is NatureWorks LLC, the creators of Ingeo, a naturally derived biopolymer (natural plastic material) that is used to create a variety of products including packaging materials and other plastic consumer goods.
The plastic is derived from plants, and the company claims it shows a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and “offers more disposal options and is more environmentally friendly to manufacture than traditional petroleum-based plastics,” according to the company’s Web site.
Businesses Become a Part of the Sustainable Packaging Movement
Concern about sustainable packaging continues to grow. Companies in a variety of industries are now touting eco-friendly packaging options – from eco-friendly take-out boxes at restaurants to marketing green options when it comes to shipping their products, sustainable packaging is a growing concern.
Overall, it is paying off for many companies, especially international brands like Coca Cola that recently received positive news coverage worldwide over its “Commitment 2020.” Coca Cola announced its plans on reducing its carbon footprint by 15 percent over the next ten years. It plans on doing this by recovering and recycling the equivalent of 100 percent of the packaging it produces itself. Champions of the plan see it as a step in inspiring other companies to make similar commitments.