OPINION : Thought leaders – A Hard Wrap for Packaging

Last month the Packaging Council hosted its 5th Environmental Packaging Awards evening. You might say it was the packaging industry’s Big Day Out. Looking at the amazing entries, I wondered why it is that packaging gets such hard wrap.
Ask people what they think in general about packaging and you will likely get the response that “There’s just too much of it” and “It just ends up in our landfills or as litter”.
However, packaging prevents far more waste than it generates and I would go even further and say that under-packaging may lead to higher food wastage. That said, we are continually learning about how we can minimise the environmental impacts of all products, including their packaging, and as an organisation we have an important role in ensuring the industry complies with its own Voluntary Code of Practice.
For most of the 27 years that I have been part of the grocery industry, packaging has been chosen to protect and preserve products from production to consumption. For marketers, packaging provides an opportunity to inform and to make their brand stand out on the supermarket shelf.
But packaging is now an integral part of every company’s environmental image. It tells story about how committed we are to reducing the impact we have on the planet. As business guru Jim Collins wrote, “Leaders are infected with an incurable need to produce sustainable results – resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great – passionate, intense, focused”.
New Zealand consumers want products which consider the resources used to make them and what will happen to them after they have been used.
When the Packaging Council first started its Awards programme, early adopters of sustainable design provided products in anticipation of the market following. This is changing at pace. The Government’s announcement of sustainable procurement criteria for paper products, vehicles and light bulbs reflects this appetite for products that literally don’t cost the earth.
Sustainability was not much talked about in the 1990s but we all know it’s part of the mainstream conversation we are having today in our businesses and with our customers.
I am involved with the Make Difference campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags at our checkouts. With prominent and consistent messages and alternatives available, people are now remembering their eco bags when they go shopping. Since the start of the Packaging Accord, the retail signatories have eliminated 70 million bags with corresponding reduction in plastic equivalent to 17 million two-litre drink containers. We will hit, and most likely exceed, our target of 20 percent reduction but this is only happening because consumers are now part of the solution.
Likewise the Steel Can Association’s campaign to remind households to recycle steel cans has tapped into children’s imaginations with its Hanable the Canable character. And The Glass Packaging Forum has raised over $2 million in voluntary levies which is being used around the country to help increase glass recycling.
As nation we tend to see ourselves as ‘little brother’ to the rest of the world, however we now have packaging recycling rate of 57 percent which is up there with the rest of the world. They are doing slightly better across Europe with an aggregated rate of 60 percent, but Australia has very similar rate to our own at 56 percent. What is more, the amount recovered is now consistently outpacing the amount of packaging waste per capita to landfill.
This doesn’t just mean less waste to landfill, waste prevention means fewer emissions. To put this in perspective, in the past year New Zealanders recycled 57,000 tonnes more packaging than the year before, which is equivalent to an annual saving of around 33,000 tonnes of CO2 or taking around 8,000 cars off the road.
We can carry on hand-wringing or we can do what we do best and apply our entrepreneurial skills to packaging design. As I watched the winning entries this year in the various categories for the best environmental packaging design, I reflected that they all share one trait – these products will be successful. Not because they’re eco-friendly or warm and fuzzy, they will be successful either because they are the most economical solution to problem or because they will deliver better, cheaper and more profitable results.
I left feeling inspired by the Supreme Winner, small packaging manufacturer called Maniaia Mist that has designed Kiwifruit tray made from blend of wood pulp and kiwi fruit pulp and skin. How’s that for Kiwi ingenuity?

Mark Brosnan is the president of the New Zealand Packaging Council.

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