CHICAGO – As consumers and the food industry look for ways to reduce their environmental impact, the success of initiatives in Asia may offer some lessons for sustainable packaging in the United States, according to a presentation at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo®.
Sustainable packaging is a multi-step process throughout the entire supply chain that is designed to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. It begins by using renewable resources and conserving energy during manufacturing while still meeting the market criteria for performance and cost. At the end of its lifecycle, a sustainable package must be recyclable, or biodegradable.
During her presentation, Siriyupa Netramai, Ph.D., a lecturer at Mahidol University, Kanchanaburi Campus, Thailand, outlined a sustainable packaging approach in Asia that involves the government, education/research entities, the private sector and consumers. She said most Asian countries began exploring sustainability when the Kyoto Protocol went into effect in 2005, although Japan already was ahead of other countries in moving to sustainability.
These are Asia’s “7 R’s of Sustainable Packaging:”
- Remove: Take out unnecessary packaging, such as making a two-layer wrapping into one layer
- Reduce: Cut the amount of packing material to remove excess. For example, soft drinks are in pouches instead of cans or bottles
- Reuse: Refill containers instead of buying new ones
- Renew (able): Make materials from natural fiber packaging and other renewable resources
- Recyle (able): Ensure that all recyclable materials are sorted from the trash
- Revenue: Consumers can support companies that provide products in sustainable packaging, and the government and industry can ensure it is cost-effective for companies that provide it
- Read/Re-Educate: Provide materials to teach consumers the benefits of supporting sustainable packaging.
Netramai said the biggest challenge is the last one: educating consumers about why it’s important to buy sustainable packaging and then reuse or recycle it when finished.
“The thing we need to do right now, and that I believe most countries are trying to do, is to do the most difficult and most crucial task which is to educate people in terms of what sustainability is and why it’s important and how to achieve it,” she said. “The situation is that we are literally learning to be more sustainable and that takes time.”
For more than 70 years, IFT has existed to advance the science of food. Our nonprofit scientific society—more than 18,000 members from more than 100 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professions from academia, government, and industry. For more information, please visit ift.org.