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Unpacking the Complexity of Designing Paper Packaging

The headline cited verbatim here is from a blog posting by leading global electronic manufacturing services (EMS) provider Jabil authored by the company's Director of Technology at Jabil Packaging Solutions, Romeo Graham. Its key message is that consumer preference for companies making real sustainable change has resulted in many consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands transitioning toward more sustainable packaging options, such as paper packaging designs. Perhaps its appropriate to add that paper-based packaging is perceived by consumers to be more sustainable even if the scientific facts don't quite add up.

Jabil's 2022 Sustainable Packaging Survey revealed that 68% of companies participating in the survey are working to implement paper-based packaging. Further, nearly half (49%) stated that their top sustainable packaging priority is implementing paper-based packaging.

Our view is that some of the claims made by Jabil in its blog may not stand up to a rigorous science-based analysis, especially when compared with plastics, which tend to outperform paper-centric solutions on a pound for pound basis. What do you think of this statement, again quoted verbatim from the Jabil blog post. "The dynamic properties of paper material make it an excellent packaging choice for CPG companies. Transporting and protecting products using paper packaging is sustainable, reliable and cost-effective. Paper-based packaging material is heavily recycled, making it easily accessible. The composition of paper-based packaging is sturdy, yet lightweight, which offers greater versatility. Other advantages of using paper in packaging include cost, convenience and flexibility."

And this? "The end-of-life benefits of paper packaging are clear, as the EPA estimates paper can be recycled up to seven times for reuse. Plastic, on the other hand, can only be recycled mechanically once or twice before being downcycled for use in textiles like clothing and rugs." No mention of chemical recycling here!

Keeping things simple by combining paper and plastics to achieve sustainability goals. Image courtesy of Jabil.

And this (pictured above)? "Traditionally, paper packaging has only been folded in a few rectangular ways which don't function quite as well as cylindrical bottles or tubs. Today, CPG brands can mold paper into a wide range of packaging formats and solve nearly every packaging need with their own paper supply and lightweight plastic liners. The thoughtful combination of paper and plastic can create everything from personal care pump bottles and cosmetics jars to home care spray bottles and food tubs." I don't agree that it is thoughtful to combine paper and plastic in what might appear to the consumer to be an environmentally-friendly design where the more logical and recyclable option would be to stick with a 100% plastic jar, and perhaps incorporate recycled content or use bio-based plastic on a mass balance basis to reduce the carbon footprint. While the Ecologic EcoJar from Jabil claims to be "a compelling option for cosmetics, lotion, hair styling and consumer health care brands that are committed to plastic reduction, recyclability, the use of recycled content and a lower carbon footprint," how many consumers are really going to go to the trouble of separating the individual components to ensure recyclability?


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