Moving Sustainable Packaging In a New Direction

AMERIPEN, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, recently held its annual meeting. As a consultant to this organization, I had the pleasure of attending and working with industry thought leaders on a number of important packaging issues.

One of the biggest concerns among AMERIPEN members is public and retailer perception regarding the value and definition of sustainable packaging. While most trade associations are talking about the ability of reducing and recycling to reduce packaging waste, I was pleased to see that AMERIPEN is looking at the bigger picture by including the ability of packaging to reduce product waste.

Taking this approach causes a complete paradigm shift regarding the waste reduction value of packaging, and changes the entire discussion about proper package design, material selection, light weighting, etc. For example, retailers have discovered that newer and “more sustainable” lighter weight beverage bottles can burst during shipment, wasting the valuable products that they contain. Not only is the product lost, but so too are all the resources used to produce it.

Let’s say that we’re talking about a pint of milk. The bottle breaks. The milk is now wasted. So too is the water used to grow crops and feed the cows, fertilizer, tractor fuel, manufacturing plant energy, transportation fuel, etc. When protection of the product is taken into account, the more sustainable package may actually be the more durable heavier version!

As AMERIPEN points out in its recent literature (, taking this more holistic approach moves the discussion in a new direction – one of optimization. To enhance sustainability, an optimal package maximizes (1) the effectiveness needed to ensure that products are transported, displayed, purchased, stored, and used as intended; and (2) the economic and environmental efficiency with which these functions occur.

What do you think– how do you define the concept of sustainable packaging?

Bob LBob Lilienfeld is a contributor to the blog Plastic Packaging Perspectives and editor of the ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, a longstanding newsletter that touts the benefits of source reduction. He has been involved with packaging sustainability issues for almost 20 years, and has served on environmental program boards at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has over 500 TV, radio, print, and web interviews to his credit, including a stint as environmental commentator for Fox News in Detroit.


  1. “Reusable packaging has been proven in many applications to reduce product damage and waste; a point that has been supported for many years by the Reusable Packaging Association and our members. It is an important and additional contributor to the economic benefits of reusable packaging.”

    Jerry Welcome, President
    Reusable Packaging Association

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