Sustainability message as crucial as commitment

Sustainability is more than a buzzword in packaging these days; it’s common sense, manufacturers say.

“We want to be good stewards of our natural resources, and sustainable packaging is an important part of this effort,” said Nicole Lipson, segment marketing manager with Atlanta-based manufacturer WestRock. 

“By making containers that are recyclable and made from recycled materials, we reduce the amount of waste.”

According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 94% of the U.S. population has access to recycling programs, making it easy for retailers and consumers to recycle corrugated containers, Lipson said.

“The circularity of packaging is critical for reducing waste; corrugated boxes that are recycled are used to make new packaging,” she said.

Sustainable options are central to cutting the volume of single-use plastic waste, said Sara Lozano, manager of marketing and product development with Watsonville, Calif.-based Sambrailo Packaging.

“We need to work collectively to not have our trash last longer than we do — invest in infrastructure that can responsibly repurpose and assist in a successful circular economy for single-use materials of any origin,” Lozano said. 

By using post-consumer recycled material, a packaging program communicates the organization’s dedication to sustainability and its support of circular economies, said Victoria Lopez, marketing representative with McAllen, Texas-based Fox Packaging.

“PCR (post-consumer resin) plastic is environmentally mindful, because it has already undergone the initial process which virgin plastic requires, capturing petroleum-based fossil fuels before they are emitted into our environment; by using this PCR resin, this packaging design is serving our environment two-fold,” she said.

Using less plastic and/or adding post-consumer recycling can save money and support a “closed-loop” system, said Karen Reed, marketing and communications director with Union Gap, Wash.-based Kwik Lok Corp.

“Kwik Lok has two products that reduce plastic: the Eco-Lok, which uses up to 20% less petroleum-based material, and the Kwik Link, which binds produce, rather than bagging it,” she said.

Dave DeMots, CEO of Canby, Ore.-based Package Containers, said his bag-making company was practicing sustainability “before it was fashionable.”

“Our objective is to have our packaging vanish, which is why we also use inks and glues that leave no trace,” he said.

Virgin fiber content, pre-consumer recycled fiber and post-consumer recycled fiber play important roles in the sustainability story of corrugated packaging, said Michael Hayford, area general manager with Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corrugated.

“We use both virgin and recycled fiber in our paper and paperboard products to provide the qualities and performance customers and consumers want,” he said. 

Materials can go through the recycling process only so many times, though, Hayford said.

“Every time a box is recycled, its fibers break down a little,” he said. 

“Paper fibers can be recycled many times (some estimate five to seven times) before they become too short and weak to make new boxes and are then used in other paper products.”

However, recycling material always is the preferred option, said Rachel Kenyon, senior vice president of the Itaska, Ill.-based Fibre Box Association.

“Every chance we get to reuse material — such as by utilizing recycled fiber to make new boxes — is helpful,” she said. 

“Recycling allows packaging producers to use less raw materials while enabling users to contribute positively to the environment by diverting material from the landfill.”

Consumers are coming to realize that plastic is “a real problem,” Kenyon said.

“We know it does not degrade, and plastic recycling is simply not where it should be,” she said. 

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the deleterious effects that plastics have on marine life, for example, and are expecting suppliers to shift as much as possible to more environmentally responsible packaging solutions.” 

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