November 18, 2020
Our last article discussed how downgauging has been and will continue to be a fundamental way of enhancing sustainability by reducing the amount of packaging needed for a product. In this article, we highlight two additional ways to enhance sustainability: incorporating post-consumer recycled content into packaging, and sourcing raw materials responsibly.
As we can infer from the laws of supply and demand in economics, both supply and demand are required for a market to function effectively. Implementing a circular economy from a recycling perspective is no different. There needs to be a sufficient supply of recycled materials and a corresponding demand for those materials. Without both, the circle falls apart because the costs become unbearable for either the suppliers or the buyers. From the supply side, the recycling industry has built the infrastructure in North America for recovering polyester (PET) resin from water bottles, and the supply of post-consumer recycled (PCR) PET resin is growing. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) from milk jugs and other sources is another raw material with a well-developed supply stream. Recycled paper products are a third highly recycled raw material.
These recycling streams were nurtured and grown because there was a demand for those types of products. As more and more companies join the Global Commitment and New Plastics Economy championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the demand for recycled materials is growing as well. Target Corporation specifically notes in their corporate responsibility report1 that they “are committed to replacing conventional polyester with polyester made from recycled plastic in Target-owned brand apparel, accessories, and home products.” They are driving demand for recycled plastic by purposefully incorporating it into their products. Increasing the demand should lead to increased investment in the supply side of the equation. We can all contribute to this circularity effort by requiring packaging that contains PCR content rather than virgin resins.
To meet the growing demand for packaging containing PCR resin, a number of products are available now and more are being developed that incorporate PCR content. For pressure-sensitive labels, Outlook Group developed a version of our MICROLINER® labels with a PET liner containing 90% PCR content. We also provide labels that have 90% PCR content in the facestock. For flexible packaging applications, we use PET films with 90% PCR content. We have recycled paperboard options available for folding cartons, sleeves, tags, and inserts as well.
By incorporating PCR content in your packaging, you are helping to drive the demand for recycled materials which helps keep packaging out of the landfill, or worse, the ocean. Another way to aid in circularizing the supply chain is to use responsibly sourced raw materials.
Being mindful of acquiring raw materials that have been “responsibly sourced” can mean many things to many organizations. With a myriad of product formats in packaging, the creation of raw materials varies from petroleum-based to naturally occurring, e.g., trees. But how each of these processes takes place determines whether the materials have been procured “responsibly,” or if they’ve simply been procured.
The most established format for procuring responsibly or sustainably sourced raw materials is found in the paper industry. For years, paper companies have engaged in the harvesting and re-planting of tree plots to maintain a consistent supply of pulp. In addition to that virgin pulp, the recycling infrastructure for paper products is well–established, simple for consumers to follow, and captures a significant percentage of the material available.
But how do we know whether paper companies are acting as stewards to the environment when they harvest trees?
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification process starts with the harvesting of wood products and can continue all the way through the supply chain to the consumer. A FSC Forest Management Certification requires that a forest is managed and audited for the harvest of commercially grown trees or managed forest areas. Becoming certified requires that a managed property prohibits the harvest of rare old-growth forest, prevents loss of natural forest cover, and does not interfere with indigenous people or animal species. It assures that the area being harvested can be re-planted with minimal environmental impact.
After harvesting, and through the entire process of paper creation to paper conversion into packaging, FSC Certification provides a “Chain-of-Custody assurance that traces the path of products from forests through the supply chain, verifying that FSC-certified material is identified or kept separated from non-certified material throughout the chain.
Any company in this supply chain, including harvesters, processors, manufacturers, distributors, printers, retailers* or anyone that is taking ownership of the forest product before the end user, needs to be FSC certified to be able to label or promote their products as FSC certified.
The Chain-of-Custody process ensures the consumer that the FSC-certified products they purchase are coming from responsibly managed sources. For a consumer to purchase an FSC-certified product, every company that previously had ownership of the forest product material components of the end product would have had to be FSC certified.”So responsibly sourcing paper products is made easy by following the chain of custody of FSC approved products. Take a look at the cereal box in your pantry, or the carton of dryer sheets in your laundry area…do you see the FSC logo? If you do, rest assured those products were derived from responsibly sourced materials.
Not only are incorporating PCR content and using responsibly sourced raw materials good ways to enhance the sustainability of your packaging, they can also lead to increased sales and profits, another critical component of sustainability. A study2 conducted by the Boston Consulting Group earlier this year found that 53% of the 15,620 consumers they surveyed in North America, Europe, and South America “are actively looking for recycling or sustainability information on packaging.” In that same study, 74% of the consumers were willing to pay more for the product if it was in sustainable packaging. 25% of the surveyed consumers would pay 10% or more for the product if it was in a sustainable package.
We can no longer afford to ignore that consumers are choosing products based on how the product and its packaging impact the environment. Tell your sustainability story to your customers and you will reap the benefits. Outlook Group is perfectly positioned to help you design your packaging to deliver what consumers are demanding. Please give us a call! We would welcome the opportunity to help you circularize your supply chain and generate more profits.
*www.FSC.org, Chain of Custody Certification