top of page
SPRING Logo II.png


Sustainable Packaging Wheel II.png

A recycling entrepreneur hard at work in Shanghai. Photo: ©2018, Robert M. Lilienfeld. SPRING Sustainable Packaging Development Wheel: ©2021, SPRING and Robert M. Lilienfeld.

Definition of Sustainable Packaging

Sustainable packaging delivers the full value of the product(s) contained within, and does so with the least amount of negative economic, environmental, and social impact throughout its lifecycle.

  • In line with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, this definition implicitly recognizes that “zero waste” is an aspirational goal, since it is physically unrealistic and economically non-viable. (The Second Law expresses a fundamental and simple truth about the universe: disorder, characterized as a quantity known as entropy, always increases.)

  • Sustainable packaging must also fulfill all of the key functions of packaging - product containment and protection, communication, branding, and convenience. It is important to remember that 90-95% of the environmental impact of a product and its package is generated by the product, which is why product protection should be a key part of sustainable packaging decision making.

  • Sustainability will be determined using science-based methodologies including Material Flow Analysis (MFA), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), corresponding to Life Cycle Inventories (LCI) and Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA); cost-benefit analysis and risk-reward assessments. While these approaches inherently include value-based decisions, all efforts will be made to ensure that these are transparent to those viewing and using our information.

  • We take an agnostic view of the two fundamental philosophies used to assess sustainable packaging: Sustainable Materials Management (EPA) and the Circular Economy, most recently promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Both will be considered when making decisions.

  • We also believe that energy, material, fresh water conservation, and contaminant/toxicity reduction should be of primary importance throughout the sustainable packaging value chain.

Primary Objectives of Sustainable  Packaging

  1. Minimize the environmental impacts of sourcing raw materials and converting them into packaging.

  2. Minimize the environmental impact of both package and product disposal, including unanticipated release into both land and marine environments.

  3. Minimize the production of greenhouse gases and the potential to exacerbate AGW (anthropogenic global warming). This applies to both the package and the product(s) it contains.

  4. Maximize product protection, as it is the single most important role of a sustainable package. In general, the product is responsible for at least 90% of the environmental impact related to itself and its packaging.

  5. Minimize contaminants and toxicity associated with the production, use, and disposal of packaging.

Key Strategies
in Sustainable  Packaging Development

  1. Sourcing - Take into account where packaging materials are produced, whether resources are being replenished or depleted, and the economic impact of this production (or its removal) on local populations.

  2. Disposal - Reducing the potential for disposal of materials and the energy associated with it is always under consideration.

  3. Use of energy and materials - Minimize usage and/or economic costs of all resources throughout the packaging value chain. This includes use of both fossil fuel-based materials and those considered to come from renewable resources.

  4. Greenhouse gases - Minimize the generation and atmospheric release of CO2, CH4, NH3, and refrigerants used in food preservation and distribution.

  5. Water use - Minimize use fresh water and the degree and amount of contamination.

  6. Chemicals of concern - Minimize, remove, isolate or immobilize within a package and its contents.

Primary Tactics

Please note that this order is widely accepted in North America and Europe, but may not meet existing political, cultural and economic standards elsewhere. Further, it is not expected that legacy systems already in place, such as waste-to-energy programs in Japan and Germany, will be (or should be) easily displaced in the short term.

  1. Reduce use of materials and energy throughout the packaging value chain.

  2. Design for reuse when and where it is environmentally and economically feasible to do so.

  3. When available and economically feasible, mechanically recycle HDPE, LDPE, PET, PP, PS, PC, ABS, HIPS, paper, metals, and glass.

  4. Chemically recycle plastics that are not being mechanically recycled.

  5. Industrially compost packaging that is inextricably tied to food and yard wastes. These packages must be: 1.) certified as industrially compostable, 2.) physically and/or economically challenging to separate out of traditional packaging waste streams, and 3.) considered to be a contaminant in mechanical recycling streams.

  6. Landfill remaining materials and/or convert to energy, as economically appropriate.

bottom of page