The material properties of sustainable packaging and labeling have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. However, there remain issues in the wider production cycle, and the good work done can come unstuck quickly; this has been observed by The Guardian, who noted that the USA in particular has moved away from sustainable packaging over the last few months. The key to making packaging truly sustainable is to have eco-friendly processes at every single step of the manufacturing and labeling process, beginning with the efficiency of the hardware needed to seal packages and labels in the first place.
The commercial oven
Many labels in commercial factories are adhered to by using heat – that’s whether it’s an etching on a glass bottle or a heat-adhered plastic wrap. This is often achieved using a heat gun or an oven; unfortunately, industrial ovens are often inefficient, creating energy loss from heat escaping and increasing the volume of pollutants emitted by a factory. A study published by the Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy journal found that gas consumption could be reduced by up to 30% with the right technology – and that innovation has come to the fore. Using 3D modeling to design ovens, manufacturers can now produce efficient and size-appropriate devices that help to create packaging at a fraction of the previous carbon cost.
While materials are biodegradable in sustainable packaging, it’s important to look at the supply chain and what impacts the movement of materials is having – both ethically and in environmental terms. Modern technologies are often more efficient in day to day usage, but have questionable sources; a good example of this is cobalt, which is found in many smart devices but is mined using exploitative schemes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This also produces a lot of pollution, given the inefficient mining methods. Making the packaging lifespan truly sustainable requires careful examination of the source and ensuring that materials are being extracted in a fair and sustainable manner.
Materials and hardware aside, computer work can provide important impetus to a sustainable packaging process. For inspiration and evidence, look at Amazon – their packaging algorithm has been adapted by both innovative software engineers and computer-driven AI/AL systems to provide the most efficient way of doing things. Computers can spot flaws and inefficiencies in a process where humans will never be able to, and can subtly direct on a minute-by-minute basis the adjustment of these inefficiencies to produce the cheapest and most straightforward system for factories and other manufacturing businesses. Putting AI at the heart of everyday processes is, therefore, a crucial step to ensuring that all of the hard work businesses put into efficiency doesn’t come undone.
While packaging and labeling itself can be made sustainable with a high degree of reliability, the same can’t be said for the processes behind the packaging end product. From manufacturing to materials, there are inefficiencies and unsustainable steps in the process that can be corrected – and should be. Whether that’s through physical changes or digital, there are options.