Wood on Plastics: Sustainable Packaging: A Lot More Than Buzzwords

Packaging is at the nexus of every global supply chain and customer relationship, because for every product sold in stores, there is both primary and secondary packaging.—Wal-Mart sustainable packaging fact sheet.

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By now every plastics processor has heard about sustainability, but before this year is over, if you’re in packaging, you had better be an expert on the matter. The movement to environmentally sustainable packaging is now mainstream. Consumers are demanding it, governments are mandating it, and retailers are marketing it.

The good news is that this movement represents a twofold opportunity for processors. First, it will spur demand for an entire generation of new products. The production of these new and improved products will conceivably require new designs, new materials, new tooling, new controls, and new equipment. All of this will generate investment and spending in the plastics industry.

Second, one of the major tenets of the movement toward sustainable packaging is that it is cheaper to produce in the long-run. This means that processors will be able to lower their costs. Prices of energy products are expected to rise dramatically in the coming years, and with them the prices of petrochemical-based resins. Much of the effort in the sustainable packaging movement is to conserve energy and materials and minimize waste. Current examples include local efforts to ban the use of plastic bags and national efforts to develop cap-and-trade regulations for emissions of carbon dioxide.

Retailers have already caught on to the power of the sustainability movement and are starting to market to it. Many large chains are rolling out private-label merchandise, whose packaging must support the store’s marketing efforts. An example is growing use of materials that are biodegradable or compostable, even when they cost slightly more.



“Green” trends are going to result in lower costs for both consumers and processors. As a processor involved in packaging, you are likely to see the following:

  • Increased use of recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Improvements in collection and recovery of used materials.
  • Continued marketing, educational, and training programs for consumers and producers of packaging products.
  • Increased development and use of materials from renewable feedstocks.
  • More focus on utility conservation through the entire lifespan of a product/material.


About the Author

Bill Wood, an economist specializing in the plastics industry, heads up Mountaintop Economics & Research, Inc. in Greenfield, Mass. Contact BillWood@PlasticsEconomics.com. See his monthly Injection Molding and Extrusion Business Indexes at ptonline.com.