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ESG in packaging

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Everyone around is talking about green goods and services. Well, it is a great first step towards sustainability. After sustainability is integrated into the manufacturing or production of goods/services, comes a crucial next stage. This step is none other than packaging. It is the most important aspect of delivering the produced goods or services to its end customers. If only the product is sustainable and the packaging is not, it is only half work done. And this is where the concept of sustainable packaging comes in. The idea of sustainable goods and services receives a holistic sense when it is coupled with sustainable packaging.


It is said that one-third of the total waste generated is packaging waste. Sustainable packaging is gaining momentum due to the growing awareness of the harmful consequences of conventional packaging. Many companies, especially the FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) companies have pledged to opt for green packaging in the wake of ESG awareness. In March 2022, a resolution was adopted by UN member states to create an internationally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. A lot of countries have come up with initiatives to encourage green packaging. For instance, the UK government has pledged that by 2025, all plastic packaging in the market is recyclable, reusable or compostable. Australia too has aimed for this. The European Union has implemented a plastics strategy as part of its circular economy action plan. The New York legislators have proposed two bills to improve plastic recycling rates. China, in 2017, limited imports of packaging waste.

Need for sustainable packaging

Green packaging may not necessarily be economical or attractive. But it may be beneficial in multiple other ways.


It is a great alternative in conserving natural resources as it makes use of recycled materials or sustainable raw materials. The production process is also not very intensive. On the contrary, plastic which is rampantly used in packaging uses tons of HGL (Hydrocarbon Gas Liquids). It further adds up to waste and pollution because it lasts forever. Have you ever thought that single-use plastic which you probably only use for a few minutes is adding to the earth’s dump every second? Sadly, according to reports, around 7800 million tonnes of plastics were manufactured between 1950-2015. So much of it is found in our natural environments and a lot is just lying there in landfills. Only 9% of the total plastic is recycled and the rest are permanent pollutants. Human and animal health is being severely impacted due to plastic pollution. Our oceans and rivers have also not been spared of plastic pollution, thereby threatening the entire marine ecosystem. It is estimated that around 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. Styrofoam, another packaging material, is a kind of polystyrene that requires 1.5 litres of petroleum for one cubic foot of production. Styrofoam is neither biodegradable nor economically recyclable. The usage of fossil fuels should be very diligent if we want to fight climate change.


The social aspects of conventional packaging also draw a lot of negative attention. The production of Styrofoam exposes workers to hydrocarbons which can result in respiratory illnesses, migraines, skin and eye infections and kidney failures. The manufacturing of polystyrene also causes immense environmental damage as the release of hydrocarbons reacts with nitrogen oxide present in the atmosphere to produce ground-level ozone. It is a dangerous air pollutant which can turn poisonous when inhaled, leading to a number of diseases. PET (Polyethylene terephthalate), a form of plastic used for storing beverages contains a toxic metalloid called antimony. Exposure to antimony can cause diarrhoea and stomach ulcers. Plastic food packaging consists of toxic chemicals like BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates. Polycarbonate plastics used for medical devices, water bottles and CDs also contain BPA; this increases the risks of heart attack, miscarriage, diabetes, cancer and psychological disorders.


The health and safety of workers and consumers are highly compromised when dealing with conventional packaging. A shift to sustainable packaging is the way ahead if we wish to resolve the above issues. Using agricultural waste like corn fibre and rice hulls in packaging can be environment-friendly. Packaging using recycled materials can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a company. Experts are coming up with innovative substitutes to make packaging eco-friendly. For example, biodegradable air peanuts can substitute for Styrofoam. Bubble wrap packing can be substituted with up-cycled corrugated cardboard or inflatable air pillows. Mushroom packaging can be used in place of plastics. Seaweed packaging is another novel alternative that is said to be very eco-friendly. Glassine can be used if one is looking for transparent paper packaging.


Technology

Companies are also taking advantage of emerging technologies to attain sustainability in their packaging. Some of the technological trends that could be observed are:-


AI (Artificial Intelligence) - Companies are making use of AI-powered recycling robots to sort materials. In order to improve efficiency, AI is used to analyse data from the company’s production systems.


IoT (Internet of Things) - Using IoT in factories can help companies monitor energy and water consumption; this in turn can help them reduce the same.


Blockchain- Companies can keep track of the particulars of their goods and services in their supply chain using this technology.


Conclusion

Conventional packaging burdens the environment. It has hazardous social consequences. The public outcry against plastic is not without reason. If billions of people decide to change their behavioural patterns, the world can witness a huge impact. It is high time that everyone supports and resorts to eco-friendly packaging because we, consumers, drive the demand. If we start opposing non-green packaging, companies will be left with no option but to find green alternatives.


You can learn more about sustainable packaging trends through an accredited ESG Expert Certification from Directors’ Institute.



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