All you need to know: green packaging

By Freddie Pierce
With more consumers worldwide plus a growing mass consumption, the amounts of packaging being put on the market are still rising and causing strong neg...

With more consumers worldwide plus a growing mass consumption, the amounts of packaging being put on the market are still rising and causing strong negative environmental impacts. Whilst sometimes packaging doesn’t generate the worst environmental impact compared to the rest of the product, the waste which is often involved is a cause for concern causing leading consumers to pressure packaging industries to reduce and improve their design.


Packaging not only protects your product and conveys the company’s image, it also has to be compliant with regulations and fulfill environmental impact reduction obligations while being cost effective. With global concern over the overuse of our planet’s natural resources, packaging has become a major issue for consumers, environmentalists, policy makers and designers. Consequently, companies face the challenge of designing efficient, cost-effective and attractive packaging while foreseeing all environmental impacts.

Different reasons lead companies to packaging environmental improvement:

Companies should avoid 'greenwashing'

•  Pressure from regulations is one of the reasons why companies need to improve their packaging. During the last years, most of governments around the world have developed regulations or initiatives focusing on the 3R concept, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” of packaging. In the U.S., Federal Government has taken a primarily advisory role in supporting the recycling and reuse of non-hazardous wastes. Many U.S. states and municipalities have enacted laws or programs to further achieve these goals. In Europe the directives 94/62/EC and 2005/20/EC set the deadlines and objectives of recovery and recycling of packaging. Thanks to different programs, recycling and energy valorization of packaging is increasing and reaches nowadays high levels: for example in Europe cardboard and paper packaging is recycled at 82 percent (EU-15).

•  Cost reduction is another key point to make when considering packaging improvement and reduction. In many countries, a mandatory tax related to system valorization is implemented. By using more eco-friendly materials, the tax amount is reduced, which can help generate significant savings when millions of tonnes of packaging are involved.

• In this society where marketing and communication are overwhelming the market, the brand image of companies is taken very seriously. Promoting a new packaging with environmental characteristic is a channel to show consumers that their expectations are being met.



Different methodologies are used to assess packaging and implement eco-design principles. Depending on the method, multicriteria or monocriteria environmental aspects are included in the scope of the study.

Some companies use a monocriteria approach. That means that only one aspect of the packaging is analysed and improved, for instance: biodegradability, recyclability, PEFC paper, biosourced plastic, reused packaging, or recycled packaging.  In order to promote their actions, they can create their own claims or declarations or use certification body private labels.

Some others better go for the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology (using ISO 14040-44 standard series) to analyze all stages of the life cycle (i.e. manufacturing, logistic and transport, end of life) and compare several impact categories (i.e. contribution to the Global Warming, Acidification, Eutrophication). This method is convenient to improve several axes of the packaging while avoiding pollution transfer. Two options can be considered depending on the objective followed by the company strategy:


-           The detailed LCA studies which are performed to exhaustively analyze the packaging life cycle (this technique is usually used when the aim is to communicate on the packaging advantages.)

-           The screening LCA method which is more adapted when the company needs to have a quick overview of the packaging environmental impacts. This option is frequently considered when time and budget constraints are to deal with.

Life Cycle Assessments can help assess carbon output

The above can lead to several improvements: material reduction, volume and transport optimization, use of recycled materials, and restriction of hazardous substances. These aspects generate numerous benefits on the environment, such as: resources protection, greenhouse gases reduction, waste diminution, energy saving, and human health protection. Improvements can be applied to the packaging but also to the process manufacturing.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies use the environmental aspect as a selling point, even though the information is not accurate. In addition, multiplicities of arguments can bring consumers and purchasers (retailers, B2B clients) to a general confusion. For this reason, environmental claims verification is increasing in B2B relationships; suppliers need to understand and secure the communication of packaging on the market avoiding greenwashing and getting true arguments to the consumer.

International and national guidelines are more and more published in countries to reduce misuse of ecological arguments and help companies to use these arguments better. Testing of eco-friendly aspects of the packaging is a performing resource to proof claims and verify communication.

About the Author

Emilie Viengchaleune Global Sustainability Services

Global Marketing Coordinator for SGS – CTS

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 70,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world.

Email SGS – CTS on: [email protected]




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