LAS VEGAS — Packaging plays a critical role for consumers by keeping products and consumers safe, but the need for recyclable, reusable and compostable packaging is urgent to help protect the planet.
“By designing optimal packaging, we’re not overdesigning where we create too much packaging waste, but we’re also not under-designing where you get too much spoilage or damage during transportation,” David Clark, vice president, sustainability, Amcor, told a standing-room only crowd at Pack Expo Las Vegas, held Sept. 27-29. “And we’re really working hard to minimize the amount of waste being caused both by packaging and the products they’re delivering in those packages.”
But getting to a place where all packaging provides an environmental solution is tough. Successful recycling programs require good governmental policy, funding and consumer participation. It’s a tough sell, although countries around the world are turning the tide on recycling.
“In Europe, there’s the circular economy directive that says by 2030 any products put into the market will need to be recyclable, reusable or compostable, or you can’t sell them,” Mr. Clark said. “So that harmonization is happening a lot faster in Europe.”
He pointed to Extended Producer Responsibility fees in which the cost of recycling materials is passed onto companies that produce those products.
“If you make a product that is difficult to recycle, you’re going to pay higher fees,” he explained.
Most Canadian provinces have these fees, Mr. Clark said. Maine and Oregon have also passed legislation to impose these fees, although they haven’t taken effect yet. And the idea has been discussed at the federal level.
“This is coming, and we think it’s going to accelerate,” he said. “I think this is going to be one of the elements we deal with in the future. The design of our packaging is going to be driven by that idea. If it’s easier to recycle, it’s worth more. If it’s a more valuable package, you’re going to pay less in fees and that’s going to change the whole value proposition for what’s happening in our industry.”
He emphasized that the process can take several years to work out the kinks, and he urged people in the packaging industry to help educate consumers as companies move toward greener packaging.
“Hopefully that inspires some of you to work together on this same pathway so we can get to the point where packaging is seen as an environmental solution and environmental benefit protecting the products that go inside our packages, protecting consumers and protecting the environment,” Mr. Clark said.