The Evolution of Eco-Friendly Packaging

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By Shelagh Hammer

Packaging is everywhere: on our grocery shelves, our shipments, covering our gifts and cosmetics, and even surrounding our children’s toys. There is no way to avoid packaging in modern society and yet, with today’s environmental concerns, reducing waste and energy usage while increasing overall product sustainability should be top priority.

We all know climate change is a daunting reality. To avoid it, we need to re-evaluate our nonrenewable resource usage and come up with better ways for businesses to create less waste and consume less energy. While we might assume that packaging manufacturers would be some of the worst violators of the environmental cause, in fact there have been a variety of steps forward in the industry which has helped make it a prime example of how to adapt business practices to become environmentally sustainable.

Sustainable materials

When we think packaging, we think cardboard boxes, plastic, bubble wrap, Styrofoam and other less-than-sustainable materials. However, with the onset of increased environmental awareness, the situation has drastically changed.

Today, you can find a myriad of eco-friendly packaging materials. Such materials include recycled tape, bamboo, boxes made out of post-consumer waste (i.e. recycled newspapers), Geami paper and even mushroom stems (to replace packing peanuts).  By using such products, packaging becomes recyclable, reusable or biodegradable — which, in turn, significantly reduces the amount of waste found in landfills.

Waste reduction

Anyone who has experience in the packaging and manufacturing industry knows the amount of waste produced throughout the finishing process is generally quite extensive. The main reason for this is the presses use an immense amount of paper, not all of which is necessary for actually producing the final package. As a result, the excess paper becomes scrap that is simply tossed.

‘Ganging’ print jobs is a great solution not only for saving money, but also for reducing paper waste in package manufacturing. This particular strategy uses one sheet of cardboard for multiple projects in order to conserve materials. Of course, to perform such jobs easily, manufacturers need flexible finishing machines which allow them to optimize material use and get the most out of their inputs. Since not all machines are capable of such endeavors, it is best to research advanced finishing solutions to find one that best suits these needs.

Energy conservation

For the most part, we all think of packaging waste in the form of paper and cardboard; however, other than these raw materials, there are other areas of packaging that could potentially create damaging environmental conditions.  In addition to paper, plastic, and cardboard waste, energy consumption is also a key concern of packaging professionals. Since many of their clients want customized packaging solutions which incorporate various shapes and textures, they need to go through an extensive, complicated process, using multiple machines to produce samples as well as a tool or die for final production. Of course, dealing with such extensive mechanical processes wastes tremendous amounts of energy, which should be easily avoidable if modern solutions are in place. In addition, the fact that such processes must be outsourced means there is more waste being released into the environment as a result of transporting the product from one place to another.

To solve this issue, the industry has moved in the direction of digital finishing. Such machines automatically create a sample  then uses it to complete the rest of the production process. This greatly reduces the steps needed for finishing and lessens the amount of energy wasted per package.

A growing number of people today expect better ethical standards from large corporations. One area where this is particularly influential is in the realm of environmentalism. Fortunately, with increased awareness of global warming, consumers are able to push businesses forward to accept sustainable practices and hold greater accountability for the waste they produce. The packaging industry, though directly involved with potentially harmful materials, has responded impressively to the predicament, coming up with new solutions to make packaging less wasteful in terms of both the manufacturing process as well as materials used. Through the use of sustainable materials and modern finishing technology, packaging is moving forward to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint one step at a time.

Image credit: Stock image

Shelagh Hammer is Marketing Manager for Highcon, the experts in digital finishing solutions. Their Euclid printer is the first of its kind to digitally cut and crease paper, labels, cardboard and microflute easily and efficiently–making designing high quality, customizable packaging easier, quicker, and more cost-effective than ever before.

With over 30 years experience in Marketing for the printing arena at companies such as Scitex (where she spent 19 years), followed by VP Marketing roles at Emblaze Systems (streaming video over cell phones), RiT Technologies (intelligent infrastructure management) and Press-sense – web-to-print solutions, Shelagh has developed advance expertise in the printing and finishing industry.

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