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What is the most sustainable packaging?

It is unavoidable. The disappointment comes when they ask me: what is the most sustainable packaging? I'm not disappointed by the question, but I know my answer is going to be disappointing.

 
By Guillermo Dufranc, Author of Packaging to Save the Planet
 

Sustainable packaging does not exist because packaging alone cannot do anything to be sustainable, but our actions can.


Moreover, packaging cannot be more or less sustainable. Something is or is not sustainable. There are no half measures. Sustainable means that it can be sustained over time. But determining how much something can sustain over time is a variable that can be difficult to predict because it is a theoretical estimate. Another question is the period of time to which it refers. Sustainable for a certain time or forever? Can it be sustained for 2 , 20 or 2000 years?


Packaging is not more or less sustainable; but rather has a greater or lesser environmental impact.

It cannot be claimed that the material of a container determines the degree of well-being it produces for the planet and society. That's an overly simplistic and partial look at reality.


So, going back to the initial question, what makes it sustainable are our actions that allow us to sustain something over time, and that goes far beyond the material used for a container. The correct use of language is important, especially to those of us who are interested in disseminating content. But there is something much more important and complex that has to do with what Sustainable Development really means. To meet the definition of sustainable packaging, the actions of a company have to consider much more than the material of a container; they have to consider the entire life cycle of the containers, and also do it in an ethical way. To this end, the UN created 17 Sustainable Development goals.


"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

Greek proverb

We assume that once we consume the content the containers are no longer useful, so we throw them away. Sure, who told us we had to do something else? When we see garbage floating on the water or simply thrown on public roads, we are horrified. However, this is not the case for the trash can. Better not look at it, right?

What we do not like, we remove it from sight.


From concept to objectives


A great variety of nuances and meanings are reflected on sustainability: economic performance, emission reduction, exploitation of natural resources, transport optimization, commercialization, end of life, social impact or the preservation of biodiversity.


Sustainable development has to be the link between economy, nature and society, taking into account their different cultural nuances and recognizing the importance of ethical behavior.


Have you seen how difficult it is to answer the question asked at the beginning? What makes some packaging sustainable? It is not about glass, cardboard, metal or plastic, but about the entire system of extraction, production, distribution, use, end of life (whether I like it or not, it is the term used), the social impact that all that generates and, on top of that, the ethical behavior involved.

I know it seems too much, and it clearly is. One can feel overwhelmed and believe that nothing can be done. But that's the worst of all thoughts. Sustainability is a path to be taken to make improvements over time; it is a way of understanding the world and a way of proceeding.


"One of the things you have to remember about sustainability is that it will take us all forever to accomplish"

William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle

(Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things) McGraw-Hill , 2002.



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