Updated: Dec 21, 2022
MedLock | April 18, 2022
Trends in Sustainable Packaging Solutions
With Earth Day occurring this month, we have been engaging in many conversations regarding sustainability. For the cannabis packaging industry, this topic has never been so crucial. With the strong demand for environmentally friendly products, it is not surprising that unique as well as “green” cannabis packaging solutions are in constant development.
This article will discuss some of the new and growing trends within the realm of sustainable packaging that you may or may not be aware of. Let’s start with the basics of sustainable packaging design.
For packaging to be sustainable, it must be designed with the environment in mind. The physical design of the packaging must optimally use materials and energy without wasting such resources.
There is no need to use additional materials if they do not ultimately contribute to the overall purpose or function of the packaging. Adding unnecessary secondary and tertiary packaging, for example, should also be avoided.
Adopting a Life Cycle Approach to Packaging Design
However, when designing sustainable packaging, one must go beyond the materials used to address the environmental impact of additional activities in the production pathway. Packaging must be safe, and even beneficial, throughout the product’s life cycle. Designers must therefore assess the ways packaging could impact the environment at several points within its life cycle. This includes considering the environmental impact associated with:
How the material(s) used to make the product is/are sourced.
The activities required to manufacture the packaging product.
How the finished packaging is transported.
How the packaging functions during use.
How the packaging is recycled or otherwise disposed of.
It is important to note that renewable energy – which is energy derived from natural resources – should be used at each step in this pathway or life cycle. For energy to be renewable, it must also be replenished at the same rate as consumption. Using renewable energy can lead to a reduced carbon footprint.
For example, it is important to implement best practices for the use of clean production technologies during manufacturing. To ensure a closed-loop life cycle for a given product, be it biologically or industrially, the materials used must also have the ability to be effectively recovered.
Adopting a life cycle approach to packaging can contribute to significantly more sustainable practices and output. As emphasized, environmentally friendly packaging practices go beyond the materials used to take a more holistic approach to sustainability.
Most consumers are not aware that glass is more harmful to produce than plastic. While glass products may not pose as much of a threat to the environment upon disposal, the manufacturing process for glass requires significantly more energy than what is required for plastics.
The adoption of a life cycle approach to packaging has even led to changes in supply chain design such that supply chains take a reusable, refillable approach.
However, this type of forward thinking has made progress in this area slow. To overcome this stagnant progression, we need to support those with a vision and encourage creative thinking. All ideas can be good ideas.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle That Packaging
While this may seem like an obvious way to offer sustainable packaging solutions, it is much more complex. First, the materials in the packaging must have the ability to be easily separated. Second, the packaging materials need to be clean.
Consumers can help by rinsing containers out before recycling them. Third, packaging needs to be properly labelled. Oftentimes consumers cannot determine the correct method of disposal for a package, especially if a “recyclable” logo is nowhere to be found.
In other words, packaging providers must provide clear and concise directions for proper packaging disposal. This includes using large symbols in highly visible positions on the packaging for the consumer to easily identify and comprehend.
Second Life Packaging
What does second life packaging mean? While compostable or biodegradable packaging is becoming a niche trend, there are new products that fall into this category with additional features. Specifically, packaging manufacturers and suppliers are now integrating plant seeds into biodegradable packaging.
The purpose of this is for consumers to give this packaging a “second life” by planting the discarded packaging in their gardens. An added benefit to using wildflower seeds in your packaging is that, upon disposal into the earth, the flowers that grow provide pollen for our bumblebees thereby contributing to a healthier ecosystem.
Goodbye Styrofoam, Hello Mushroom Foam?
With sustainable packaging practices gaining momentum, it is wonderful to see new and exciting materials being used to replace plastics, Styrofoam, and other potentially harmful materials.
One such example is Myco Composite. This packaging solution uses plant-based building materials or, in this case, fungi-based materials. IKEA is one notable organization that has decided to adopt mushroom foam packaging as a replacement for Styrofoam.
We often forget that packaging includes more than just the plastic, glass, biodegradable materials, or paper materials used to create it. Packaging uses ink. What you may not know is that some inks can be just as harmful to the environment as the base packaging material.
For example, petroleum-based inks can be seriously dangerous for not only animals and other living organisms in the environment, but humans as well. Petroleum-based inks are so harmful because they include volatile organic chemical compounds that cause adverse physiological effects.
Alternatively, vegetable-based inks are much less harmful to the environment. This is because these inks are biodegradable, are less likely to emit toxic chemicals upon disposal, and can be easily removed from packaging during the recycling process.
In general, packaging needs to eliminate the use of harmful toxins. This includes materials that become toxic through degradation. The use of plant-based inks is one way to rid packaging of toxic compounds.
Beyond Materials: Ethical Conduct and Accountability
As you can see, packaging materials and their critical production processes play a vital role in improving sustainability. However, we want to conclude with a discussion regarding the importance of ethical business practices. With regards to sustainability, this means practicing greater accountability, even if it means an initial revenue loss.
If a company knows a specific type of packaging it carries has a significantly negative impact on the environment, it is that company’s ethical responsibility to discontinue that product. While this may initially impact profits, buyers and consumers will view these actions positively and will be more likely to support your business in the future.