The title of a new book offering advice on packaging and sustainability asks: Why shrink-wrap a cucumber? It's a question that has troubled many people looking to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, not just consumers but also packaging designers, who are the target market for this guide.
The authors, Laurel Miller and Stephen Aldridge, who have worked at major packaging design groups, say it is a misconception that shrink wrapping a cucumber is “overpackaging”. A wrapped cucumber lasts more than three times as long as an unwrapped one and loses only 1.5% of its weight through evaporation after 14 days. A cucumber that is not wrapped after picking loses 3.5% of its weight after only three days.
The cucumber example illustrates how consumers often focus on the post-use phase of packaging without considering the pack's function. Despite the book's title, it contains only a small reference to the carbon footprint of food waste. It does acknowledge the positive role packaging plays in protecting and preserving food and goods. But food and drink waste is arguably a bigger problem than packaging waste and yet receives much less attention in the public debate.
Chapters on packaging and the environment show the difficult challenge for packaging designers faced with pressures that emerge from recycling, lightweighting, material substitution and other channels. These pressures often conflict with each other and new solutions may come with their own environmental problems. A chapter on bioplastics highlights the tangled issues around compostability, recycling and land use.
A good section of the book discusses strategies available to designers to create new packs that are both ‘green' and eye catching. Methods include optimising shape and lightweighting to reduce the amount of material used.
A directory of materials and packaging formats provides a useful reference for designers who may work with a variety of materials. In this, a designer can quickly discover the environmental positives and negatives for PET, HDPE, PVC, bioplastics, metals, glass and moulded pulps among other materials.
This book shows there are lots of questions and no easy answers when trying to make packaging greener, but at least it attempts to help designers make more informed decisions.
The guide is available at www.laurenceking.com