Has anyone noticed an influx of media regarding the impact of packaging and sustainability regarding the environment? It appears to be a trend to position a specific packaging material as dominant in regards for sustainability and the environment over others. This topic raises concerns because there is a possibility certain industries, businesses, individuals, or governments with a vested interest are attempting to persuade clients and the general public to do so. It is believed that these practices are ill advised and there is a better solution.

A great starting point for the packaging and sustainability movement impacting the environment is not necessarily social media, an algorithm, or scientific study. It begins with a collaborative effort. The solution is quite simple: Anyone who interacts with packaging needs to be actively involved. This means actually putting tangible funding and physical work into the effort. Having a public relations announcement or press release stating your opinion on the matter is nice, but follow through is imperative. Too many times most of these statements are coming from a marketing/brand protection perspective only.

Outside academia, there are few companies that have full-fledged packaging sustainability departments. If your business is not a Fortune 500 company; you may be lucky to have one employee committing 100% of their time to packaging sustainability. Most of the time sustainability responsibilities are rolled into others duties (e.g. Packaging Engineering, Environmental Safety and Health, Marketing, etc.).

The mantra in company’s mission statements or goals need to focus on packaging recycling and sustainability aspirations. Accountability, responsibility, and the willingness to participate should be the main tenets. Anyone touching packaging needs to be involved. It is well known packaging recycling rates and sustainability efforts within the United States are marginal at best. Other regions of the world including developing countries have surpassed the US in their efforts. The “secret” is straightforward: It’s a team endeavor!

Products generally possess a laundry list of packaging requirements. Certain packaging materials may be better suited for specific applications due to characteristics and may or may not include a sustainable or recycling option. Reasons for the packaging not being recyclable or sustainable and potentially impact the environment may include: recycling availability, technology and infrastructure constraints, personal choice and or convictions, etc.

This does not mean the material needs to be banished from the earth, but to be mitigated by utilizing intelligently and only when necessary. There is not one packaging material that is a “silver bullet” to all packaging issues. This is one of the many reasons why packaging engineers exist.

The US is a laggard when it comes to packaging and sustainability initiatives. If individuals, businesses, and US government officials at all levels end the lobbying, shouting and scoffing at each other and start listening about the importance of implementing recyclable and sustainable packaging; it may improve the country and world as whole. Converging multiple thoughts of how to approach these issues and working together is the best way to make substantial progress. By providing opportunities across the US to design the technology, build infrastructure, recover the materials, and setting necessary standards, the US may be able to create a new wave of opportunities and learn that the best way to approach a problem is not always going alone.