Can packaging be a solution to achieving sustainability?

Image: Reusaboo

On 28 September, Global Citizen held the “Concert to End Extreme Poverty” in Central Park in New York City. The multitude of headliners included Queen, Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams, One Republic and Carol King. Throughout the concert, videos were shown of impoverished countries and starving people, children in particular. One country highlighted was Guatemala, and the person interviewed was a coffee farmer who said that climate change was affecting his crops (he didn’t say roya/coffee leaf rust was the culprit but it was easily inferred) so there is less coffee being grown, and consequently, less money coming in making it harder to live. (Surprisingly, he didn’t mention the effects low coffee prices were having.)

The concert was a fitting (yet unplanned) end to my week, the majority of which I had spent in Las Vegas attending Pack Expo (23-25 Sept), where Pierre Pienaar, president of the World Packaging Organization (WPO), in his presentation, “The Global Packaging Challenge to Achieve Sustainability,” said that there is increasing food waste globally, with anywhere between 30-35% food being wasted.

Pienaar stressed the need to reduce packaging waste. “If no food was wasted, no one in the world would go hungry.” He said that having the correct packaging aligns with food safety. “Emerging countries are not using proper packaging, so they have unsafe food.” The WPO is working to create new strategies to help combat food waste in developing countries (via proper packaging).

He added that about 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions. “That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world.” Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled globally.

Pienaar said that packaging receives a lot of negative publicity but it could become a solution rather than a problem by helping to limit food waste, and thus, hunger, “as there is a lot of packaging waste — approximately 40% of plastic produced is for packaging and is used only once and then discarded.”

Pienaar explained that the future of sustainable packaging is not just in smarter use of materials, light weighting, reduction and recycling, but in empowering consumers with the ability to lead their lives in a more environmentally positive way. “It is about changing consumer behavior.”

“There is a solution but everyone around the world needs to be involved,” said Pienaar, who then offered several sustainable opportunities in packaging such as:

  • Manufacturing smaller packs
  • Finding methods to reduce the cost of production
  • Using recyclable materials (reuse, recycle, re-purpose)
  • Increasing flexibility by offering diverse shapes, sizes and variety to meet demands

“The only way to fix the problem and achieve sustainability,” said Pienaar, “is by educating, equipping and empowering future generations.”

 

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