by Greg Kishbaugh
The supply chain is a complicated organism, composed of millions of variables and moving parts. That is why it has always been important to break down the process whenever possible and analyze the ways in which it can be improved, particularly in regards to environmental impact.
A new study, A Study of Packaging Efficiency As It Relates to Waste Prevention, analyzed more than 300 containers in 56 different grocery categories to understand their overall level of sustainability and efficiency.
The study examined credited packages for source reduction, recyclability, and use of recycled materials. The methodology, findings, and conclusions were reviewed by the Laboratory of Manufacturing and Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley.
“There are three legs on the sustainability stool—economic, environmental, and social,” said Report Editor Robert Lilienfeld. “The study clearly shows that, over the past 20 years, packaging has evolved to more effectively deliver on these sustainability requirements.”
The report found that source reduction remains a primary driver in reducing packaging waste, all of which conserves materials and energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Recovery for recycling continues to play an important role in reducing the impact of packaging on the environment. Paperboard cartons, steel and aluminum cans, beverage bottles made from PETE, high-density polyethylene, and glass are collectively recycled at a 34.2 percent rate today, up from 25.7 percent in 2005. The level of primary packaging recycling, according to the report, is now equal to the recovery rate for total waste, and is the primary reason that the total recovery rate increased from 31.4 percent in 2005 to 34.3 percent today.
The report’s revelation is an interesting example of a positive societal trend leading to unattended consequence in terms of packaging. As consumers move toward more active and healthier lifestyles, they look toward products that offer convenience and weight control solutions.
Unfortunately, the resulting packages can lead to inefficiencies as they generally require smaller sizes for those seeking portion control or increased functionality for ready-to-eat, ready-to-serve, and out-of-home product solutions.
“In general, the environmental impact of food is up to 10 times greater than the impact of its packaging,” said Lilienfeld. “So a bit more portion control or ready-to-eat food packaging can actually reduce waste, as these packages ensure that the food inside is actually eaten, rather than thrown away.”