Thousands of solutions out there in the market are addressing the pollution-related packaging topics. The packaging industry is becoming more and more responsible. They are the ones that are pouring in millions into finding the best thing that could resolve the problematic. The packaging industry collaborates with local legislators and waste collectors in order to have the best practices applied.
The waste packaging pollution is relativity new problem for our civilization looking at it from a timescale perspective. The consumer expansion that burst after the cold war made everyone unprepared. No one knew how it will result in environmental impacts. We can see a large increase in attempts to solve the problems in the past three decades. One might wonder why we cannot find the ultimate solution.
The three things preventing an easy fix
We as the general public may be unsatisfied with the current status. On the basis of what we see in the media and hear from the general discussions, we cannot help but be worried and concerned. What we don’t see, are the attempts to recover from this alarming state that we end up in. Everyone needs to know that the problem is a) new, b) complex and c) wast. All of the 7,53 billion souls that are currently residing on this planet contribute to the problem. That’s just a simple fact. And all of these 7,53 billion people live in different cultural surroundings and have different lifestyles. This means that we cannot apply one single solution (or at least it seems so) to all of the regions of the planet.
The second thing is that global trade and exchange of goods made the already complex topic even more complex. Products, end-use as well as semi-finished goods, are being transported around the globe with packaging. This means that the packaging itself is affecting everyone beyond borders and oceans. Even if certain region like USA or Europe for example, prepares ultimate packaging solution, it does not mean that it will be effective globally. This could point out that the simple ban principles will not resolve the topic. The only thing that will ultimately happen is that manufacturers within these regions will be less competitive against their out of the region rivals. But the problem will not be solved.
When we go beyond the bombastic news title and bulletins, we can see the waste packaging pollution as to what it actually is. It’s a new problem for mankind, and we have actually started addressing it very fast. Finding the right solution is frankly speaking nothing else but trial and error procedure, for we do not have sufficient experiences in it. But not to be alarmed; such things did occur in the past and so far we have been able to manage all of them. The ultimate proof: we are still here. We were not wiped off the planet due to some ultimate stupidity of our civilization. Somehow we have always recovered, and I am quite sure that we will recover from this pitfall as well. We just need to look for best practices, apply them and see the results. The positive results will not occur overnight, but gradually surely will.
The positives of activities so far
Even though it seems that we have not done enough and that we are already in dire straits, I can say that a lot has been done so far. Some stories are more successful than others, but the most important thing is that we are making steps forward. For me, the most important knowledge we have gained so far in waste packaging management is that we have information that can be our start point: the amount of packaging pushed in the market, the amount recovered and the amount recycled. Beyond any doubt, this is the most important information and the information on which Environment & Packaging is acting upon.
The expansion of IT solutions has enabled us to receive information around the globe and cluster them into logical segments. Now we have the data and we can react upon them. In accordance with worldbank.org, we are generating more and more waste and the annual waste generation will continue to spike in the future as well. Aligning the data will reports on how much material is collected and then further on recycled, we can soon realize that there are certain (large) gaps, that we need to address.
If we want to resolve the main packaging pollution problem we need to first find a way how to allocate the movement of packaging in a far more precise way. Even though the micro-solutions that work for certain branch or material is applicable, we must not forget to be looking at the large scale situation as well. If we will continue to lose so much waste (and therefore packaging materials) in the supply stream, we are still creating a negative result in environmental terms.
Taxation and other penalizing approaches
What really stands out is the current legislator’s reactions to the problem. It is alarming that even though there are multiple discussions on how to deal with the waste packaging materials, it seems that we always end up with the same solution. Taxation of the materials. I think that it is already clear that such taxations do not solve the problems. If anything it is making it worse.
The legislators need to really look the whole problem and need to address it properly. Any penalizing legislations that affect general stream is damaging to what we should be achieving – real environmental awareness. And yes, the packaging is an important part of it. Not only in terms of waste management but also in the segment of food preservation. The packaging equation needs to be appropriate, not only limiting on side of things.
The initial step is the launch of proper information
In order to address the waste packaging pollution problem, we need to first understand the basis of packaging and its importance. The key is that the packaging is not the enemy, but is an important ally in sustainability war we are battling with. The education system is starting to address the topic; some educational systems with more success than others. This is an important step. However, we need to know, that these kids that are starting to receive education are going to be involved in the decision making processes in twenty to thirty years time.
It is highly important that we start educating other generations as well. Unfortunately, there are not enough quality educational materials out there. We as packaging professionals need to bring the packaging topic to the general public in a fresh and appealing way. The consumers need to be engaged and need to feel that there are points on which they can contribute more. Such approaches did pay large dividends for some segments of the packaging industry. People are more aware of how to deal with polymer bags for example. Another aspect is that people are taking good care of paper-based products.
These two segments are only the two of many, and looking from packaging perspective cover only a small portion of the packaging meant as a general term. That is why we need to make a step back and perform a correct approach to delivering the main packaging information. People need to be aware that packaging is the thing that helps them live their lives better and more productive, and that packaging helps them increase the quality of their lives. ENP is one of such outlets, that is starting to deal with the packaging consumer engagement.
The goals to deal with
These goals are related purely on the basis of what we can do in the near future on the basis of the information and technology we have at hand:
1. inform & educate
2. allocate the loses
3. apply the correct monitoring
4. calculate the actual effects of packaging
5. apply the best practices globally
Any of these goals need to be approached in a smart and simple manner. The more we will complicate things in these steps, the more challenges we will create. We need to keep things on a high level in order to get an exact overview and then append specific solutions locally. The frame should be simple(r) and easy to comprehend for anyone of us in the world.