CHEMISTRY, MATERIALS & PACKAGING
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Experts from EMF, GreenBlue, Recycling Partnership Ponder Principles of Sustainable Packaging

What does it take to achieve the perfect sustainable packaging? This Monday morning workshop offered insights into the question. It’s harder than one might assume. Competing interests between corporations and municipalities, and added complexities given the unique nature of their stakeholders for both businesses and governments, adds to the challenge. Moderated by GreenBlue’s Nina Goodrich, the session comprised experts Keefe Harrison of The Recycling Partnership; Bryan Shova of Kaleidoscope; David Clark of Amcor; and, Mats Linder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The session yielded four key takeaways:

  1. Cross Pollination: Collaboration between companies and municipal recycling goals will be key to achieving a sustainable packaging future. This means all entities are willing to look beyond their immediate interests and contribute to the bigger sustainable future (easier said than done). Here’s an example: Companies will have to willingly pay more to choose truly sustainable, more recyclable packaging options. These choices will then have to be aligned with the infrastructure available to local municipalities and recyclers to process the packaging waste. Therefore, cross pollination between sectors is key; some terrific organizations, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Closed Loop Fund, are at work ensuring this happens.
  2. Standardization: Not all recycling programs are the same. With 20,000 local governments, how do we ensure that recycling programs are effective and standardized across the board? This becomes more complex when recyclers have the added responsibility and interest in ensuring their key stakeholders (i.e., their customers) are happy with them. The interest in ensuring stakeholder happiness can conflict in streamlining the recycling process. Organizations such as The Recycling Partnership are working to solve the problem.
  3. Labelling: One of the biggest hurdles in addressing the sustainable packaging problem is education. Commendable work is being done by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to get labelling right. Through its How2Recycle program, the coalition is partnering with over 65 leading brands to build authentic labeling that educates consumers on recycling. The good news is, people are willing to participate if the right information is presented to them.  
  4. Lifecycle Assessment: Lifecycle assessment is key to sustainable packaging and needs to become the industry norm. Upstream and downstream should both be considered while undertaking this assessment. Materials and manufacturing must also be a part of this assessment.  

The panel called on companies to be authentic with consumers and communicate clearly about what is truly recyclable and what isn’t from a sustainable packaging lens. If progress is to be made, it will truly need to be a collaboration between consumers, local recyclers and businesses, with each of these groups committed to a global sustainable future.

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