There is no question that packaging waste has a detrimental effect on the environment. Every year millions of tons of plastic waste is thrown away and ends up in places such as the ocean. An estimated 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, according to National Geographic. In order to combat this problem, developments have been made in sustainable packaging. Currently the most popular solutions have been to replace plastics with bio plastics and paper, as well as designing packaging to be reused. There have also been more creative developments that involve the use of material such as biodegradable wheat straw. While these methods have led to a decrease in plastic waste, I believe that the most efficient solution, and therefore the future of sustainable packaging, involves a combination of said methods. Companies could create packaging out of the environmentally friendly packaging mentioned above, however, they could design these packages to be durable and reused. That way once the customer receives the item inside of the package, the box could be sent back to the company for future use.

Understandably, the logistics of this solution are complicated. Initially, I believe that it would be most effective for large distributors that have the resources to accomplish this idea such as Amazon. These companies could design the packages in such a way that they are not ruined when opened by the consumer. The packages could then be dropped off at local collection centers set up by the companies involved. Amazon currently uses drones to drop off packages in some areas, so they could use the drones to pick them up as well. While this method wouldn’t work for every product, it would still significantly reduce the production of plastic and other kinds of waste, which is why I believe that many companies will adopt methods similar to this in the future.

In addition to logistics, cost is a big factor in the development of sustainable packaging. The method I described would be initially very costly, however, it would eventually save a lot of money for companies involved. Large distributors like Amazon and Walmart spend billions each year on packaging. This is because they have to manufacture an astronomical amount of boxes due to the fact that they are only good for one use. With a new, reusable box design they wouldn’t have to manufacture nearly as many boxes in the long run. The future savings involved would likely motivate businesses to adopt this new sustainable strategy.

Ultimately, the current state of sustainable packaging has produced some innovative ideas to reduce waste. The future should involve the combination of these innovations in order to create a more well-rounded, big picture solution to the problem of plastic waste. Part of the big picture likely involves durable, reusable packaging distributed on a mass scale. The initial cost will be very high, which means that it will take a while for businesses to implement this strategy. However, the long term payoff will be great for both the companies involved and the environment.

Essay by: Ryan Resendes
Florida International University

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