It’s easy to throw the word ‘sustainability’ around the packaging industry and think that the want to do the right thing will be enough for brands and consumers to change their behaviour. But various studies show that even when people clearly understand the current and future implications of their consumption, when there is a choice to be made, it is not always the right one – unless it’s really easy and no more expensive.
Faced with that reality, it can be depressing to think that consumers will just chuck their rubbish in the bin instead of recycling, or that brands will pick the cheapest packaging regardless of the environmental impact. But there is no point in working on what we’d wish were true instead of what is actually true. So how can we marry reality with ideal?
Angela Thijssen, Sustainability Manager for glass and responsible plastic packaging partner PONT Europe, has an interesting take on that question. Having progressed through her career as the commercial director for Benelux at PONT, Angela has considerable experience in talking directly with customers about their commercial concerns, which brings an invaluable approach to her role now. Thijssen says, “There’s so much information around about sustainability in packaging yet a lot of it is greenwashing. I like to focus on what can actually be changed, what difference can be made with the right information. So when a customer or potential customer comes to us to ask how we can support them in making their packaging more sustainable, we start with the small changes. Over time and over volumes, they add up, and, most importantly, they actually happen.”
The ‘actually happen’ bit is crucial. Yes, we can advise on the best possible packaging solutions and give the results of when consumers recycle 100% of everything they throw away and brands only choose 100% recycled materials, but if that advice isn’t taken, it’s just hot air. By understanding exactly what small steps can be taken right now, Thijssen is able to positively contribute to the circular economy. She continues, “I totally understand that changing packaging is a big decision for a company, with a big impact on their processes and workload. Instead of starting from scratch, we like to advise on where incremental benefits can be achieved. So we can start small, such as introducing a more sustainable material, or changing the labels, or using a different closure; it’s about adapting what you already have, seeing what you can squeeze in.”
Start with realistic changes
This is where Thijssen’s commercial background brings valuable insight to the process of making packaging more sustainable – and the change more realistic for a company that, quite understandably, is looking at the bottom line as well as the environmental impact. She says, “Never forget that these small steps add up. I’m not saying that you only need to do small steps, but they are certainly the best place to start. Once those small steps have been successfully integrated into the packaging process, it helps to convince those people higher up the decision-making process that being more sustainable does not mean being less profitable or more difficult. Quite the opposite! Those small steps are a great tool in showing how beneficial it is to make your packaging more future-focused – but proving it is only possible when the right people in the business are convinced.”
The small steps towards sustainable packaging available from PONT show how an understanding of the technicalities of the packaging process delivers results. The company has removed many of the less environmentally-friendly options of its portfolio, such as taking out the non-recyclable ‘traditional’ PVC sleeve products and replacing them with recyclable versions, launched an rPET that contains either 30% or 100% recycled PET as standard, and added carbon black free PE and PP containers and closures, making just in time deliveries across Europe even faster.
Thijssen is a practical voice in what can often be an emotionally-driven message. Her commercial understanding is a welcome counterpoint to her sustainability experience, and, coupled with her calm, friendly character, makes for a reliable combination. She concludes, “Even if some companies want to be more sustainable because of marketing, or to meet their customers’ sustainability policies. Some want to be change makers too! I know that everyone is overloaded; overloaded with information, with responsibility...but we all want to do something. It’s all about identifying what that something is, making it the place where companies can start, then making the process of being more sustainable acceptable to the decision makers. Then it flows!”