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On April 4-6, 2022, Anthesis packaging experts Carolyn Klindt and Frances Mazur-Batistoni attended the Sustainable Packaging Conference held in San Francisco. Below, their key takeaways from the conference.
The decisive decade
By now, most people have heard the term “decisive decade”. The decisive decade is the critical window when we still have the opportunity for interventions to slow the course of climate change, requiring the global-scale transition to a decarbonized economy. Everyone has a role to play in the decisive decade, and from a packaging standpoint, we need to collaborate on corporate goals around reducing carbon. Rather than comparing one material against another, we have the opportunity to take a holistic or systems approach, which will help us fully understand the value of packaging’s role in this decisive decade
Carbon capture & recycling technologies
There is a real opportunity for technology in helping solve the climate crisis, and new sustainable packing technologies are hitting the market as we speak. LanzaTech is working to transform the future through carbon recycling technology. Based in Illinois, LanzaTech uses their state-of-the-art science to turn carbon into raw materials – and so far, they have produced over 30 million gallons of ethanol from their first two gas fermentation tanks. The Yale Carbon Containment Lab is also working on various ways to capture carbon. They are discussing how we can capture carbon by mimicking the ways nature currently captures carbon, such as through rock formations, trees, and the ocean.
In addition to carbon capture technologies, there has been an increased focus on advanced recycling technologies, also known as chemical recycling. These technologies are up-and-coming and can be an additional lever companies should explore to help them achieve their sustainable packaging goals. There are many different types of technologies that fit underneath the ‘advanced recycling’ umbrella term, including purification, conversion and decomposition. Each type has its specific pros and cons related to what it can and cannot achieve. It’s important to take the time to understand the nuances of the different types of technologies to find a fit for purpose solution that meets your needs
Collaboration is the future
Getting your company started on sustainable packaging can be tough – but the most important aspect to remember is to just get started and remember that this is a journey. Start establishing your goals, what your company cares about, and where you should put your focus; everything else will begin to fall in place once your foundation is built.
Once your company has determined where to put its focus there is an opportunity to collaborate with both internal and external partners to drive more impactful change. Collaboration opens the door for ideas and solutions that may have not been foreseen as possible. West Rock, a paper converter supplier, recently collaborated with Conagra, a packaging company, to create molded fiber trays for meals. The bottom line: no true change can efficiently happen if you don’t partner up.
In recent years, packaging legislation has been ramping up globally, and the anxiety of keeping up with these changes was palpable during the conference. Companies need to monitor and prepare themselves to avoid non-compliance, e.g., reduce weight, increase recycled content, and eliminate single use. Being proactive rather than reactive is the key here, and extended producer responsibility (EPR) shouldn’t be seen as a hinderance, but rather as an opportunity to advance your companies’ place in the sustainable market.
The world of re-use
SPC recently released a document defining the different nuances withing reusability. The document helps readers understand what reusable packaging is, how re-using results in a lower environmental footprint, and how to have a successful re-use program, among other important topics. While there are some examples of reuse models out there, they are not at scale and the industry is eager to understand how these models can be executed successfully. Diving into this new space will be uncomfortable for all involved – even consumers – and it is important that companies take the time to bring consumers along with them on the journey.
The 2022 Sustainable Packaging Coalition Conference was a huge success, and it was inspiring to see the motivation that all the key players hold in finding solutions for a more sustainable future in packaging. It will be important to take these learnings and equip ourselves with the right tools to take intentional steps towards reducing our impact on the environment. Sustainable packaging is a journey, but we are taking enormous strides in ensuring a safe future for all.
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