Packaging and the environment
Reject it? - do we need packaging?
The image below is what I use to train people on making decisions around packaging.
At the moment the biggest problem I see is that everyone is focusing on the bottom of the decision and waste hierarchy triangle and focusing on recovering i.e. biodegradable and compostable materials or incineration.
When we should be looking at the other questions first. i.e;
Do we need the packaging?
Can we reduce the packaging?
Can it be repaired or reused?
Can a return and reward scheme be set up?
Can it be recycled or contain recycled content?
Only if all of the above have been looked at should we even consider biodegradable or compostable solutions.
Last month I got trolled and abused on social media for applying this sentiment. And because of it I have gone off Linked In and Twitter for a while regarding my packaging business.
I am increasingly disturbed about the lack of future foresight organisations and people are making about changing of packaging. It's all knee jerk reactions and very bad environmental decisions are being made because of it.
I'm going to discuss one example to highlight my point and this is the one I received abuse for.
Saltwater Brewery in the United states have developed an edible six pack ring for their cans;
(see video below)
The sentiment behind this initiative is great but ever since this was announced in 2016 I've questioned it. Even though its gone on to win many top environmental initiative awards.
And these are my issues;
1) The rings are to collate the cans together - it is only there to make it easier for people to lift the cans from the shelf, this packaging is not actually needed and in my view all collation rings whatever they are made of should have banned along time ago. Are we incapable of picking up 6 cans off the shelf, putting it into a basket, taking it to the counter and then putting the cans into a reuseable bag that you take for doing the shopping? This packaging should be rejected it serves no real purpose other than convenience and surely as humans we can give up a bit of convenience such as this to save our planet.
2) They say their target market is fishermen, surfers etc - I would have hoped that if any group of people would understand the sea and to dispose of litter correctly it would be them, so surely they'd embrace having no rings at all anyway.
3) When I first saw this I was horrified that anyone would even hint at encouraging people to throw anything in the sea "to feed" the turtles. Unfortunately, most people will not know the difference between this and plastic rings. (I fear we do credit people with the same values as we have and if this is not an important thing to them, then they won't care). One person will watch the video, tell someone else, who will tell someone else and by the time it has got around by word of mouth people will assume "hey, my mate told me these rings can be eaten by turtles lets throw them in the sea", whether they are this material or plastic.
4) As far as I am aware barley and wheat based products are not part of wild sea life natural diet (correct me if I'm wrong), hence we do not know the long term impact of such items being eaten by marine life.
5) These rings have been designed to take the weight of 6 cans of beer weighing approximately 2 kg's. This means it is going to be very strong. If a turtle gets stuck in one, yes it will break eventually, but how long? The turtle could still get stuck.
6) If these get into the ocean and degrade in water we need to understand what impact that has, could it cause some form of algal blooms? And we don't know the impact on the overall eco-systems.
7) Barley and wheat by-products from breweries normally have an outlet in the animal feed markets (they do in the UK), so this shouldn't be going to waste anyway.
8) This technology is being patented so may not be readily available to share with other organisations - the complexities of saving the planet versus making money. :-(
The sentiment of this development is a good one, but like many at the moment they are missing the point. This is not a question of banning plastic, this is a question of ensuring we are only using all forms of packaging if it's actually required.
We need to apply this to not just the packaging but the products.
Packaging is there for a reason - it lets us feed an ever increasing population by protecting and preserving our food. Some of us are lucky and can purchase things daily, others are not.
If packaging is required for the absolute right reasons it can reduce food waste, reduce carbon emissions and reduce loss of land and habitat due to there being less food waste so less land is required to produce the food.
But we have to ensure it is there for the right reasons. (see my last blog on this).