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Living Green

Checklist for Greener Packaging

Product packaging and shipping have been around nearly as long as human civilization. Archaeologists have found ancient packages made from materials ranging from reeds to clay to fabrics, while our more modern ancestors started the now-common practice of using paper, and then plastic, products to store and ship goods. Today, packaging continues to evolve as it is continually improved for sustainable design.

What makes a package sustainable? How does sustainable packaging help the environment? Use this handy checklist for greener packaging to help identify environmentally conscious choices.

Ask these questions about sustainable packaging choices:

- Is it functional?
This is a core question for any product, and green packaging is no exception. A product must function well to be acceptable to the consumer. Functionality includes the product's visual appearance and ease of use. Green packages that don't function well can lead to excess waste.

- Is it made from recycled materials or use renewable resources?
Waste reduction is the main goal of truly green products. Recycled materials take waste out of landfills and reuse them productively, lowering pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and saving raw materials. Recycled materials are definitely a bonus.

- Is it recyclable or biodegradable?
One hallmark of green products is their ability to be disposed of with minimal impact on the environment. This disposal takes two forms: recycling the material for additional use or breaking down the waste quickly and efficiently through biodegradation. This is a relatively new development for certain types of packaging, such as food containers, but a wide array of options now exist thanks to extensive research and development.

- Does it feature an efficient design?
Sustainable packaging is consciously designed for a lower negative impact on the environment. This includes its physical design, with an emphasis on streamlined and lightweight sturdiness. A good green packaging design eliminates bulk and excess layers, lowering the amount of resources needed for production. In some cases, a clever use of space and angles in a packaging's layout can save enough material to make a second package!

- Will it ship in a green-friendly way?
Effective and lean design ensures that a product ships less expensively and more efficiently. Lightweight packaging allows a larger number of packages to be shipped at once, which can help slash the carbon footprints left by transporting products.

- Can it be reused?
A good sustainable design encourages options for clever repurposing of the package. Reusability, whether for additional shipping opportunities or for alternative uses related to the product, adds mileage to materials, lowers the amount of waste in landfills, and cuts down on production costs.

- Is it safe and non-toxic?
Safe, non-toxic materials are essential to achieve green packaging. Products that use potentially hazardous or toxic materials are unsafe for both the consumer and the environment. Safe and non-toxic packaging is especially important for food products, which also need to be properly sealed to combat contamination or spoiling.

- Was it produced under eco-friendly conditions?
Green packaging goes beyond housing the product -- the manufacturing of the packaging is also important. Green packaging is produced in an environmentally conscious way. Core features of green production include efficient energy use and low pollution emissions from the facility. Some factories harness green energy sources, such as wind power, to drive their plant's production.

- Is it cost-effective?
This is probably one of the most important things on a checklist for greener packaging. A product must be cost-effective to be a viable choice for both the individual consumer and the large business. A good environmentally friendly package choice also has a budget-friendly price tag.

Sustainable packaging is a new and growing trend, with innovations adding more options each day. By following a checklist for greener packaging, you can join this eco-friendly movement that really "packs" a punch!

About the author:
Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, AZ. With green packaging options, Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group, a leading distributor of corrugated boxes, packaging materials and equipment, with 16 locations across the western United States.

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