Moving Beyond Recycling: A New Call for Improving Sustainability in Packaging

In the business-as-usual approach to sustainability in packaging manufacturers and brand owners have focused on the middle and end of the packaging life cycle. Tetra Pak, a leading creator of food processing and carton solutions, is encouraging extending that thought process back to how a package is made.

Driving this is the company’s “Moving To The Front” campaign, which seeks to help brand owners and converters better understand how they can play a role in protecting natural resources. A new Tetra Pak white paper, What is Renewability in Packaging and Why Should We Care? delves into packaging materials that can be regrown or replenished naturally. The paper considers both the depletion of resources and how sustainability can become a key part of the packaging industry.

Read Tetra Pak’s white paper

“Renewability—using a resource that can be regrown or replenished naturally, such as paperboard-based packaging and bio-based polyethylene (PE)—can have a positive impact on our global economic stability and the ongoing health and biodiversity of our planet,” says Elisabeth Comere director of environment and government affairs at Tetra Pak.

For example, although no package is perfect, we can still learn about the carbon impact at each life cycle stage using a tool called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). By revealing the big picture, LCA helps avoid improvement in one area at the expense of another. This can, for instance, show that if 75 percent of a package’s weight is from renewable paperboard, that element of the package only contributes 20 percent of the carbon impact throughout the package life cycle.

“Packaging can be a tool for conservation and has the potential to drive demand for sustainably produced raw material at an immense scale,” notes Erin Simon, manager of packaging and material science at World Wildlife Fund, which participated in developing some of the paper’s content. “It’s exciting to see Tetra Pak embracing this model and encouraging others to ‘Move to the Front’ on packaging.” With a packaging company taking a leading role in the initiative, Simon says she hopes others will also catch on.

In addition to supporting the survival of natural resources, Tetra Pak president and CEO Brian Kennell thinks adding renewability procedures will also provide businesses with a multitude of benefits. He believes businesses will see growth because supply resources will be available and the demand from retailers and consumers for renewable products will increase. Then, as consumers become more aware of renewable materials they may have a preference toward companies that utilize it.

Recycling, now a mainstream process, has come a long way and Tetra Pak’s Moving to the Front initiative is not meant to mitigate recycling efforts. Instead, says Kennell, this is the time to include the front-end of a material’s life cycle when considering resource conservation.

“We don’t want to lose any ground on recycling or other commitments where we and others have been successful. A company’s license to operate is now firmly based in its ability to mitigate and reduce the impacts of products at all life cycle stages. Acting at the front end is a must in today’s economy.”

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