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SustPack 2017: Donut Economics, Private-Sector Leadership, and US Recycling

SustPack 2017 logo

Last week’s SustPack 2017, a joint project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) and Smithers Pira, was centered around the Inputs, Outputs and Impacts of Packaging in Supply Chain Sustainability, and provided attendees (including your EarthShift Global correspondent) with an engaging and informative mixture of panel conversation and keynotes – including some exciting discussion of large-scale private-sector efforts to improve sustainability performance.

Here is a brief rundown of some of the conference events that jumped out at me, plus a quick request for feedback on an idea for possible follow-on work that might be of interest to those of us in the packaging and recycling communities.

Essentials of Sustainable Packaging Workshop

This first-day workshop provided an opportunity to learn more about the SPC and its programs, including the excellent How2recycle.info, which educates consumers on the recyclability of various materials within packages. The session also included links to other resources like the Association of Plastic Recyclers design guide - a great resource for the recyclability of various types of plastic.

And here’s the request: as a product manager at EarthShift Global, I'm often tasked with being the voice of the user. The How2Recycle.info project conducted a comprehensive survey on what can be recycled in communities across the US. That got me thinking - would people be interested in a rationalized (US) end-of-life method? Use the comments area below to let me know if this is something you would see as useful for EarthSmart, PackageSmart or some other LCA tool.

Donut Economics by Kate Raworth

In her opening remarks, Nina Goodrich, Executive Director of GreenBlue and Director of the SPC, referenced a recent book by Kate Raworth called Donut Economics. It outlines humanity’s 21st century challenge of meeting everyone’s needs within the means of the planet. In other words, ensuring that no one falls short on essentials like food, housing, healthcare and political presence, while also ensuring that we do not collectively overburden Earth’s life-supporting systems, such as a stable climate, fertile soils, and a protective ozone layer. The “Donut” of social and planetary boundaries is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it can act as a much-needed compass for human progress in this century.

Dow Chemical’s Energy Bag program

In one of the opening keynotes, Diego Donoso, Business President, Packaging and Specialty Plastics of The Dow Chemical Company,

highlighted the importance of industry collaboration in improving sustainability in plastic packaging.

Donoso noted that every year, Americans discard 29 million tons of plastic waste. To help change that, Dow teamed with municipal and industry partners to implement an alternative for plastic waste. The resulting Energy Bag Programs demonstrate that non-recycled plastic items - like juice pouches, candy wrappers and plastic dinnerware - can be collected and converted into an energy resource. It’s great to see people identifying creative ways to keep more material out of landfills.

Walmart’s Project Gigaton

Although Walmart was not a presenter this year, its presence and influence was certainly felt. With its Project Gigaton announcement on April

19th the retail giant threw down the gauntlet to a number of attending companies. The project invites suppliers to join Walmart in committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their operations and supply chains. The initiative will provide an emissions reduction toolkit to a broad network of suppliers, and aims to eliminate one gigaton of emissions, focusing on areas such as manufacturing, materials and use of products by 2030. That’s the equivalent to taking more than 211 million passenger vehicles off of U.S. roads and highways for a year – and another sign of how the private sector can move quickly and assertively in change leadership.

Amazon – Win-Win Packaging Design for e-Commerce

Amazon’s Dr. Kim Houchens, Director of Worldwide Packaging, Sustainability, and Brent Nelson, Senior Manager of Worldwide Packaging,

Sustainability, delivered a fascinating look at the inner workings of Amazon’s distribution network and how ecommerce can be a real game-changer for reducing packaging waste, if done right. Many of us have experienced ecommerce packaging done wrong (huge box - small product) but Amazon’s new Frustration-Free Packaging program is cultivating a unique ecommerce solution that aims to not only reduces packaging waste but also improve the customers experience and eliminate “wrap rage.” This type of win-win thinking is extremely important and encouraging, and essential to the process of making real progress.

Most Entertaining Session - Imagination Unpacked

Adam Montandon, co-founder of Factory of Imagination, delivered the most entertaining keynote of the event, giving attendees a look inside the cutting-edge Danish factory that makes ideas. not things. Adam's unique approach to innovation focuses on doing stupid things and setting time aside to play – a refreshing perspective, and one that got a warm response from the audience.