In an effort to harmonise the plethora of definitions relating to packaging and sustainability, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has developed six draft international standards that were recently circulated to all the national standards bodies for voting, writes Paul Curtis CEO of the Packaging Council of New Zealand (PCNZ)
It is generally accepted that sustainability is an essential element of business strategy and that packaging plays a critical role in this strategy. Packaging is visible, it’s an integral component of most supply chains and although good design should ensure that packaging prevents more waste than it creates, packaging nevertheless consumes resources and contributes to the waste stream.
However, defining packaging sustainability is often a subjective exercise, largely dependent on the infrastructure a country, or even a region, has in place to recover packaging at the end of its life. This means that it can be very difficult to provide unequivocal information to suppliers, customers and the public on something as basic as whether or not a package is recyclable.
With Governments around the world coming down hard on unsubstantiated green claims, understandably companies are increasingly nervous about providing any sort of environmental information on the label or website through fear of being challenged. This presents a problem not only for industry, but also legislators. Ambiguous law is usually bad law and in the absence of internationally accepted definitions, legislators will often make up their own.
In my opinion, these draft international standards are to be welcomed as many international consumer goods companies and packaging manufacturers were intimately involved in their development. The standards are not anti-packaging, in fact quite the opposite, as evidenced by the common introduction at the front of each draft standard which states:
“Packaging plays a critical role in almost every industry, every sector and every supply chain. Appropriate packaging is essential to prevent loss of goods and as a result decrease impact on the environment. Effective packaging makes a positive contribution towards achieving a sustainable society.”
The national standards bodies have until the end of January 2012 to comment and vote on the draft standards. The final ISO standards will be published by the end of 2012.
The draft standards are:
• ISO/DIS 18601 - Packaging and the environment
• ISO/DIS 18602 - Packaging and the environment - Optimisation of the packaging system
• ISO/DIS 18603 - Packaging and the environment - Reuse
• ISO/DIS 18604 - Packaging and the environment - Material recycling
• ISO/DIS 18605 - Packaging and the environment - Energy recovery
• ISO/DIS 18606 - Packaging and the environment - Organic recycling