Rethink packaging design: use less, use longer and use again

Australian Institute of Packaging

By Nerida Kelton MAIP Executive Director – Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP) Vice President – Sustainability & Save Food – World Packaging Organisation (WPO)
Wednesday, 19 May, 2021



Rethink packaging design: use less, use longer and use again

As natural resources are rapidly diminishing, pollution and GHG emissions worsen, oceans and waterways are filling up with packaging waste and integral ecosystems are becoming irreparably damaged, the world has been put on notice that the time for talk is over.

The time has come to rethink the way packaging is designed. This is an exciting time to take bold moves and rethink every aspect of how packaging is designed, used and ultimately provide long-lasting environmental value.

The change is being driven by consumers who want to see circular packaging that has designed out waste, is reusable, incorporates recycled content, is truly recyclable and all unnecessary packaging and problematic materials are eliminated.

This significant societal behaviour shift is a green light for packaging technologists and designers to become even more innovative and creative by the redesign of packaging to be circular and not follow the linear model of ‘take-make-dispose’. Packaging technologists and designers can now design out waste at the beginning, to ensure the materials selected can be used repeatedly, are recyclable and regenerate natural systems.

A great place to start is by implementing the Sustainable Packaging Guidelines (SPGs) into their design processes.

SPGs are a central part of the co-regulatory framework established by the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measure 2011 (the NEPM) and the Australian Packaging Covenant (the Covenant). The NEPM and the Covenant state that the SPGs are to assist the design and manufacture of packaging that meets the sometimes-conflicting demands of the market, consumer protection and the environment.

The 10 Sustainable Packaging Principles that make up the SPGs are:

  1. Design for recovery
  2. Optimise material efficiency
  3. Design to reduce product waste
  4. Eliminate hazardous materials
  5. Use recycled materials
  6. Use renewable materials
  7. Design to minimise litter
  8. Design for transport efficiency
  9. Design for accessibility
  10. Provide consumer information on sustainability

The goal of the SPGs is to integrate the principles into the right business areas, to achieve the optimal outcomes for packaging functionality, and to collectively work to meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

  • 100% of all Australia’s packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable = SPG Principle 1: Design for recovery (reuse, material recycling or organics recycling).
  • 70% of Australia’s plastic packaging will be recycled or composted = SPG Principle 1: Design for recovery (reuse, material recycling or organics recycling).
  • 50% average recycled content will be included across all packaging = SPG Principle 5: Use recycled materials.
  • Problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging will be phased out through design, innovation or introduction of alternatives = SPG Principle 2: Optimise material efficiency = SPG Principle 7: Design to minimise litter.

The highest priority SPG principles are those included above that support the achievement of the four targets, ie, design for recovery, design for efficiency, using recycled materials, design for efficiency and design to minimise litter.

In other areas of the value chain materials suppliers are working on innovative new materials, simplifying complex material structure. Brands are busy redesigning packaging and highlighting environmental improvements. The recyclers are reviewing and expanding capabilities, while governments are funding new initiatives and the consumers are embracing the changes.

A systemic approach to circular packaging design can deliver significant environmental impact reductions including a lower carbon footprint, feedstock derived from fossil fuels, in the use of virgin materials and packaging waste to landfill.

“It’s called the circular economy. It’s a new way to design, make, and use things within planetary boundaries. Shifting the system involves everyone and everything: businesses, governments, and individuals; our cities, our products, and our jobs. By designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems we can reinvent everything.” — Ellen Macarthur Foundation

Consumers look at packaging differently now, so too should packaging technologists and designers. This is an exciting time to be designing packaging and those that design circular packaging will know that they have made a difference for generations to come.

Have fun rethinking your packaging designs and remember use less, use longer and use again.

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