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Thinking outside of the box – the move to 100% recycled packaging

Over the last few months we’ve been working on a bunch of sustainable packaging projects for various clients leading up to the Olympics. Yesterday, Alex (Saul Good operations director) Andy Maier (Courageous B, graphic designer) and I had the pleasure of touring the facility of one of our packaging manufacturers. While cardboard packaging is nothing new, we were encouraged to see how the industry is finally moving towards offering 100% recycled options. For Saul Good, our involvement with this effort started over 3 years ago as part of a sustainable design project for our gift boxes. Now we’ve gained enough experience to become sustainable design consultants for a host of green packaging projects around the province.

100% can’t be for everyone, but it’s a great start

During the tour, we learned that if all the companies purchasing cardboard packaging went to 100% recycled materials we’d run out of supply within months. However, I’m of the belief that using and promoting 100% recycled packaging is a meaningful way to influence the market and promote change towards sustainable consumption. The more people who ask questions about the materials being used in products we consume, both in business and in our personal lives, the better chance we have as a society to address sustainability in a meaningful way.

Is it really green?

Chain of custody assurance is important as a way to have verifiable proof of your sustainability claim. On a recent project we collected shipping manifests, certificates of compliance and letters from suppliers down the supply chain to ensure the credibility of our recycled content claims. It really comes down to inventory management and inventory controls when looking for assurance that the materials received from suppliers are in fact the same being used in the production of your packaging. Using barcode scanning technology our supplier scans materials upon arrival in their facility and at every point in the manufacturing process. Because the dimensions of the product are customized to our specific job it would be impossible to mix our recycled materials up with virgin stock.

Post-consumer vs. pre-consumer waste

What does 100% recycled mean? Well, that depends on where the materials were recycled from. When paper is recycled post-consumer, referring to the fact that people use the material for something and then recycle it, it has considerably more environmental benefits compared to pre-consumer, or industrially recycled materials. By recognizing this important distinction, we’ve ensured that our current project uses at least 94% recycled post-consumer materials compared to approximately the 20-30% used in conventional cardboard boxes.

What tools are there to help?

Environmental Defence has developed a fantastic calculation tool to quantify the environmental benefits of choosing recycled paper for your project. This is invaluable in communicating the value in sustainable packaging projects.