The future of sustainable packaging has many hurdles to overcome but a commitment to the infrastructure and innovation can be achieved for the future of all of us. The largest problem facing recycling in the United States is the collection process. The infrastructure and education of the general public lags behind the needs of the recycling company to have a symbiotic relationship to function well. To properly recycle, more specific containers are needed at the consumer level, along with training for all households, to collectively work together for the recycling industry to adequately recycle. An answer to some of the recycling issues is to look at the packaging of materials.

There are three pillars to sustainable; the economy, society and the environment. Sustainable packaging means a turn from many current packaging options to ones that meet the needs of the three pillars. Part of that means moving from laminate and plastics to more bio-plastics and paper products. While replacing fossil fuel plastics with bioplastics may only shift the burden from our carbon footprint over to other environmental issues, the shift is still a step in the right direction. An increased usage of paper products will also aid in reducing our carbon footprint and aid in the recycling process, circularity. Circularity is the societal pillar of packaging. If a product does not have the ability to replace itself and have society buy into its recycling mission then it fails to meet that pillar. However, the greatest investment in the future of sustainable packaging may be in innovation.

Thinking outside of the box and about packaging in a new way may be the answer the industry is looking to achieve. Partnerships with shipping companies, young minds, research institutions and artist may be the future. I believe that what we now know about packaging will be as antiquated as the first IBM machine is to the iphone. The iphone came about because there was pressure in the industry to find something better, and not just incrementally better but exponentially. There does not currently exist the pressure from activist and the industry itself to look for new designs and problem-solving techniques. Mainly because the packaging is not the product and so much effort is given to the product whereas the packaging, which will get thrown into the trash, receives the least thought. Companies look for the most cost-efficient packaging as possible. What if the packaging was part of the product. Where they exist in a relationship together where you would not see the one without the other. This is where artists and their creative nature to think outside of the box is needed. We need a full company buy-in.

Recently there has been a trend to unboxing products on YouTube. But what about unboxing and reboxing. Some companies understand the value of brand and packaging. The blue Tiffany box is as iconic as its product. The bag inside is part of the packaging becoming part of the product. Most people do not throw away the little blue pouch that comes with their jewelry, this is a small example of packaging and product uniting. There is no limit to the possibilities for the future of sustainable packaging but it requires and industry that is pushing for and ready for change.

As mentioned previously, the three pillars of economy, society and environment must be met for sustainable packaging to have a viable future. I know that through innovative thinking and new artistic designs to packaging we can create a bright future to sustainability.

Essay by: Moira Dinkins
Brandywine High School

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