sustainable development concept, woman holding a recycle sign towards the camera shot at shallow depth of field

By Merav Koren, CMO at TIPA

I’ve been working in the environmental eco-system for quite some time now. I have read many articles about climate change and its consequences. I am interested in sustainability reports and I think I possess developed an unique hobby: the particular exploration associated with every sustainable product that can be discovered on the shelves. As much as I can, I try to stay about top of the market’s pulse and learn something new every day. I was therefore challenged when someone casually asked me one day: “Say, what’s the difference between eco-friendly plus sustainable? ”

In recent years, it has become increasingly common to use these two terms, which makes me personally happy, as it means more people care about environmental issues and I’m not the only weirdo in my neighbourhood yelling at people: “Hey mister, you put that bottle in the wrong bin! ”

But people and companies often use these two terms interchangeably, so I thought it would be interesting to explore the differences. There are many definitions of each, but let’s take a look at two I found:

It seems from these two definitions and other articles I’ve read debating the differences that there isn’t a significant difference between them.

What IS significant? In my opinion, if you are a business owner who decides to go green, you can call your product either sustainable or eco-friendly; your decision can be based on pure business logic or on personal preference. While the Federal Trade Commission has said that companies should be careful about the use of sweeping terms like “eco-friendly, ” and “sustainable, ” it does not define or even limit all of them.   But such changes could be coming with a planned update to the FTC green guidelines , which means that now is the time for brands to be thinking more carefully about their claims plus word choices, and how those are connected to their products.

For the business in order to honestly claim to be “eco-friendly” or “sustainable, ” it should be transparent with its customers, define how friendly its product really is for the environment and, most importantly, provide an end-of-life solution. The explanation associated with its sustainability or eco-friendliness, including how to dispose of it, ought to appear on the particular product’s packaging, just like the ingredients list, as this will be sort of a contract between the customer and the manufacturer.

The concept of eco-friendliness cannot be merely the feeling, like the one we get when we come across brown-paper packaging; instead, it needs to be viewed holistically.

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Eco-friendly product packaging comes in several types and can be made with compostable materials, such while PLA, PBS, and starch. These materials are considered ideal for making eco-friendly packaging – and for a good reason: product packaging made from these components has a proper end-of-life, meaning it returns to nature after use. Even if it is not really disposed of within a home or industrial composter, this type associated with packaging will eventually decompose, leaving no microplastic behind; it will just take longer.

In the sector of eco-friendly materials, we obviously need to also address recyclable components, such as PET plastic, HDPE plastic, cardboard, and paper. If these materials – and that’s a huge in case – are usually sorted correctly for recycling, they can be remolded to begin anew as raw material with regard to new packaging or other uses. Yet unfortunately, 91% of plastic waste ends up in landfills.

Another popular environmentally friendly packaging material is papers, which some say must be the only material used for eco-friendly packaging. But when looking at paper, all of us need in order to not only consider its end-of-life aspect, yet also the particular circularity. As we all know, paper is made through trees; trees absorb CO2 and emit oxygen, the very air we breathe. Trees are also a limited resource, and deforestation is usually causing extreme fires plus other eco disasters around the world. It is definitely absurd to think that we make product packaging out associated with paper  in order to be more environmental – but are actually  damaging  the atmosphere by doing so.

Here’s another thought about document packaging’s end-of-life: there are usually products, including milk, that were switched from being packaged in plastic – to cartons, to make them easier to recycle. Sounds environmentally friendly and promising, right? However , although carton manufacturers claim that these packaging are essentially plant-based and 100% recyclable, they may also contain plastic spouts, or layers of plastic material and aluminum, which makes recycling them very difficult and expensive. Even though paper packaging is a good option in some cases, in this situation I’d rather purchase a plastic bottle of milk because it can at least be recycled.

Another failed example is meat trays. Many supermarkets in the U. S have switched from plastic trays to cardboard racks with plastic material lamination. While the plastic tray was fully recyclable without any required consumer action, the particular cardboard tray is only recyclable if the customer separates typically the plastic PE laminate from the cardboard base. This has turned out to be really challenging in order to do.

In these two cases, there wasn’t holistic thinking.

So what is the best eco-friendly packaging? There is no simple answer to this particular question. Some even say there is no such thing as environmentally friendly packaging. But I would like to be able to suggest what “environmentally responsible” packaging should entail: it should be the option that uses the least amount of materials possible, consumes the least amount of energy possible, plus has an end-of-life solution that causes minimal damage. This approach is simple and practical for businesses.

And what about us, this consumers?

I would say: read often the small letters on the packaging; buy products from companies you trust in addition to always – always : consider the end of the product’s life.

Another thing to keep in mind is that one person’s ideal eco-friendly packaging isn’t necessarily the same as another’s. There isn’t a single solution for all needs; each one depends on the product’s location, time, use and even end associated with life.

We must strive for a holistic approach not only on behalf of the manufacturers but also on behalf regarding ourselves as consumers.

Merav is the Chief Marketing Officer at TIPA Corp., which makes compostable plastic product packaging. She is an accomplished, high impact marketing executive with years involving experience developing and executing successful campaigns and strategic planning. She is passionate about improving the environment and finding innovative solutions to make your world a better place.

By Ellie

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