Ten myths about packaging & the environment debunked

Earth RecyclingThose of us in the packaging and package converting industries know perfectly well the real value and benefits that our materials and containers bring to the consumer, the retailer, the CPG customer–and the environment. But it doesn’t hurt to review some facts so you’re better prepared to defend packaging when the time comes. Here are 10 myths debunked by Dr. Kenneth S. Marsh, CPP, a consultant on packaging, protection, shelf life and international trade based in Seneca, SC.

Myth 1: Packaging is the major component of landfills.

  • Packaging materials make up only about 30% of landfills. 2010 US EPA data has containers and packaging at 76 million tons–30.3% by weight.

Myth 2: Packaging is the major cause for litter.

  • Cans and bottles on the side of the road are packaging, so packaging gets blamed. Responses to this litter range from attacks against packaging (“No packaging is best”) to bottle bills (taxes) to restrictions on packaging materials (bans on plastic bags). People cause litter–the solution should be to enforce litter laws.

Myth 3: Manufacturers and retailers want to force more packaging on us.

  • CPCs seek the least expensive packaging that will suffice, complicated by legal requirements and corporate influences. Purchasing usually wants the cheapest packaging; marketing typically wants the glitziest packaging; production prefers loose packaging; distribution benefits from tight packaging; and cost reductions strive for the least that works.

Myth 4: Goods are intentionally overpackaged.

  • This is not true by design. It is arguably true because testing stops if product requirements (shelf life, protection) are met without the knowledge that it is really excessive. Cost-reduction programs then commence to save money and packaging.

Myth 5: Polystyrene is not recyclable.

  • Polystyrene is technically recyclable and recycled at the plant level. Recycling may or may not be cost-effective. The low value of virgin resins makes them sometimes attractive over post-consumer recycled plastics.

Myth 6: McDonald’s switched to a more environmentally-friendly package.

  • Expanded polystyrene was perceived to be non-recyclable. Polyethylene-coated paper is perceived to be recyclable, but is in fact not (reasonably cost-effectively) recycled. McDonald’s saved money with the switch and was also perceived as being environmentally responsive.

Myth 7: Plastic bags are a waste.

  • No, they serve a purpose. They can serve additional purposes through reuse. They can be recycled. They possess the same energy value as oil. But, yes, reusable cloth bags can save resources and be used for advertising messages.

Myth 8: Laminates are bad for the environment.

  • Laminates and coextrusions allow for tailored materials that are more efficient for packaging. They are often cheaper than monopolymer alternatives, use less material than monopolymers, are more effective and may be safer as well. New pyrolysis techniques allow components of multilayer flexible packaging to be recycled.

Myth 9: Packaging is bad for the environment.

  • Waste is what’s bad for the environment, and packaging reduces waste of food, etc. Packaging allows product movement: Foods and drugs can not be delivered without packaging.

Myth 10: “No packaging is best.”

  • Truth is no packaging  promotes food spoilage, disease transmission, product damage and more waste. No packaging precludes sterile drugs. Do we really want to return to life in the early 1900s?

Dr. Ken Marsh’s “myth debunking” and more was offered in a live AIMCAL Webinar yesterday. To see the entire presentation, go to www.aimcal.org/technical-resources/webinars.aspx

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