Redesigning your packaging with the 5Rs
By Nerida Kelton, MAIP, Executive Director – Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP); ANZ Board Member – World Packaging Organisation (WPO)
Tuesday, 26 November, 2019
Mindsets have shifted over the last few years and globally consumers are now actively driving brands and their packaging departments to align their sustainable packaging design to incorporate the 5Rs.
From a consumer perspective, the 5Rs are:
- Refuse: Don’t purchase unwanted items.
- Reduce: Eliminate single-use products and packaging wherever possible.
- Reuse: Use products more than once and make use of reusable products such as water bottles, cups and shopping bags.
- Recycle: Make use of recycling bins and purchase products that are recyclable. Look for products using the new Australasian Recycling Label (ARL).
- Repurpose: Purchase products that are made from recycled content.
Packaging technologists are being asked to reconsider the outcomes of their packaging design across the supply chain from manufacturing to recycling. Packaging design can no longer be linear, a closed loop circular approach must be considered.
When discussing the waste hierarchy from a packaging design perspective, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are the three most important areas for significant and long-term changes — they are the preventive measures with the highest level of impact.
Achievable steps for packaging technologists can include redesigning the shape and size of a product, reducing thickness and weight of materials, shifting to recyclable materials and even developing a closed loop system for products. Any adaptations to the packaging design, structure and form, however, must not compromise the ultimate purpose of packaging, which is to maintain the ability to protect, preserve, contain, communicate and transport a product all the way to the consumer. Packaging must remain ‘fit for purpose’ first and foremost before any structural changes are made to a pack. The AIP encourages all packaging teams to undertake a lifecycle assessment where possible before any pack is altered.
Consumers are also driving the focus to what is really happening with packaging at the end of life. Designers can no longer incorporate a mobius loop on pack without asking themselves whether it is actually being recycled or landfilled in the country it is sold in. The answer may then determine a full redesign of their packaging and use of materials. The availability of the APCO Packaging Recycling Evaluation Portal (PREP) enables this decision-making for all packaging technologists and designers, as it reflects the true state of play in the recyclability of all packaging materials in this country.
If the material is capable of being recycled in the country in which it is sold, then consumer waste and GHG emissions will be significantly reduced across the lifespan of the product. Adding 30% recycled content into all of your packaging also ensures that we are moving towards a circular economy and taking responsibility for our own packaging waste. These steps in turn all go towards achieving the 2025 National Packaging Targets that brands are diligently working towards.
An effective redesign feature of packaging that consumers are slowly embracing is Reuse whereby a customer can Refill their products using the same packaging. It is important to note that reusable containers have a greater environmental impact than one that is single use, if not used correctly.
Whenever possible, packaging technologists should try to design packaging for continued use and the ability to have multiple uses for the consumer over an extended period of time. Just like a reusable drink container, the more that a refillable pack can be used over a longer period of time, the less impact the packaging will have on the environment.
Every day more and more companies are announcing refillable packaging solutions including cosmetics, cleaning products and even beverages. The journey to truly sustainable packaging is exciting and we encourage packaging technologists to take this opportunity to reimagine their packaging and actively work to designing better packaging that addresses Reduce, Reuse, Refill and Recycle.
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