FMI 2010: Is Sustainable Packaging Possible for Retailers and Manufacturers?

May 12, 2010

By Al McClain

At a Tuesday workshop at the FMI 2010 Customer Connect conference,
Keely Wheaton of Target, Anne Johnson of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition
and Paul Hepperla of Verisae discussed what’s being done to advance the
cause of sustainable packaging.

The panel identified numerous trends in this
area, including:

  • Packaging light-weighting
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (with legislation in two states and pending
    legislation in eight states)
  • Growing consumer awareness of environmental and waste issues
  • Increased focus on package recovery
  • Increased use of sustainability metrics
  • Growing use of lifecycle analysis
  • Increasing demand for data and transparency

The panel talked about a voluntary effort by the Consumer Goods Forum
(a European trade association), working with the Food Marketing Institute and
the Grocery Manufacturers Association, to establish metrics on packaging sustainability.
Mr. Hepperla stressed that the players needed a better understanding of what
happens to consumer packaging in its lifecycle — i.e., how it is used
and where it winds up — so that they can establish baselines and metrics for
activities in this area, and make changes that can be measured.

The bottom line seems to be that manufacturers
and retailers, for the most part, agree that the environmental impact of packaging
needs serious rethinking. The sustainable packaging initiative aims
to address numerous components of the problem.

Discussion Questions: What retail or consumer products environmental packaging
initiatives are you aware of that are working? What suggestions do you have for
retailers and consumer products manufacturers?

Author’s comment: Meanwhile, as the industry forms sustainability plans, the
Pacific garbage patches continue to grow, a new garbage patch was recently
discovered in the Atlantic, and we’re
still throwing a lot of packaging that releases methane as it degrades into
landfills. For some encouraging news, we can look at countries like Belgium,
where there is an extraordinarily high recycling rate, and at initiatives like
that of sailor Mary Crowley (see link below) who has a fledgling campaign going
to actually get sailors to take their boats to the Pacific to help pick up

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3 Comments on "FMI 2010: Is Sustainable Packaging Possible for Retailers and Manufacturers?"

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Paula Rosenblum
12 years 6 days ago

Retailers KNOW that excess packaging adds unnecessary cost, hassle and space requirements. And nothing beats those plastic clam shell thingies for driving you completely insane when you get the package home.

And the ever-changing cost of corrugated has been a source of woes for retailers forever.

These are low-hanging fruit…manufacturers and retailers should be able to work together to improve this quickly and efficiently.

Joel Warady
Joel Warady
12 years 6 days ago

It seems to me that the lack of comments to this discussion is very telling. Either no one really cares about sustainable packaging, or no one has the answers. Whatever the case, it seems that this a subject that many people talk about, because is is trendy to do so, but not too many retailers or manufacturers are doing a whole lot to solve the problem.

Just my opinion….

William Liddell
William Liddell
12 years 5 days ago
I agree with Joel as far as our experience in the US market. If you were to read companies’ websites, everyone really cares and is making tremendous progress focusing on the issue. In reality, not so much. The grocery business is so competitive, they are petrified of imposing any substantial change on the customer, for fear of losing a single one. We have been told that more than once. Our experience, and that of other manufacturers in conjunction with the largest retailers and grocers in Europe, is one of successful, closed loop programs where plastic waste is recovered from the retailer’s DC and then reprocessed back into their own bags. The retailer really makes the effort to be part of the solution. In the grocery trade, customers often buy a few bags for a nominal fee and then reuse them until they feel that they are “worn out” and the retailer replaces them one-for-one at no charge and then recycles the old ones. This is especially popular in the UK. Post-consumer recycled content percentages are… Read more »

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