The problem of packaging
We are not the first to say that in a global reality where there are increasingly more competitors, the image of a company is a key factor that must be controlled to send the right message in the intended tone. Consumers want to be identified with the brands they buy, so companies better care about how they present their products.
But packaging is not only a question of image, it is what protects what you want to sell, what the consumer sees in the store, what helps you to use the product in the right way and which completes its -generally short- life cycle by being recycled in the best of cases, or what ends up in a landfill or the sea being eaten by a fish or creating islands of waste in the worst of them.
Using data from the Catalan Waste Agency last year we threw away almost 159.170 tonnes of light packaging in Catalonia (plastic and metal) plus more than 314.400 tonnes of paper and cardboard and 192.000 of glass. With Catalonia having 7.600.000 citizens, this means we are producing 87,59kg of packaging waste per person per year. The situation will only become more dramatic seeing how these numbers are going up after a few calmer years because of the economic crisis. We can find similar data in most of the developed countries.
In terms of volume, which is a very important aspect when speaking about waste management, the situation becomes even worse, because packaging tends to be something more or less lightweight but that occupies a lot of space. This fact results in very inefficient transport of waste with trucks that are not fully loaded in terms of weight although they are full, thus having to make more trips than necessary.
According to data from the OECD, in 2015 Spain recovered a 40% of the waste we produce, with a 30% recycling rate, but we are still far from the numbers of Belgium or Germany, that recover more than a 99% with a recycling percentage of 55% and 65% respectively. Maybe the European numbers look acceptable or in the right direction, but if we consider the huge amount of resources and energy needed to produce and later manage this packaging which almost instantly becomes waste, we can see that the solution is not only about whether they are recycled or not.
Once we are aware of the environmental problem we are creating, that is finally appearing in the news almost every day, someone might think that we are in the right path to solving it, and this cannot be less true. The United Nations’ Global Sustainable Development Goals establish that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by a 30% by 2030. This will prove complicated seeing how every year we produce more tonnes of waste than the previous year instead of reducing them.
Consumers are lazy by definition. The number of products packaged in individual portions is increasing, while buying in bulk has become something from the past despite some interesting projects that are appearing in our cities (or some others that never disappeared in smaller towns).
Take-away food and food delivery is a reality that is here to stay. Markets like the American have decades of advantage here, but it is now a fast-growing business in Europe. Once again, the amount of waste we create every time we order food is completely insane. Online shopping is another reality that is a part of our everyday lives, and expectedly, the distribution to our homes results in added boxes or bags.
It is important to remember that when we are at a store, we want to buy detergent, wine or cereal, not packaging. Therefore, all the actors in the value chain should ensure their products are packed as efficiently as possible without losing image or functionality, and consumers need to be much more responsible when choosing between them.