What Are the Environmental Impacts of Product Packaging?

by Stewart Flaherty; Updated September 26, 2017
Various kinds of cardboard packaging can be recycled easily in many communities.

Product packaging is defined as materials used to present goods, contain them appropriately and provide for safe shipping and handling. The large quantity of packaging creates various environmental impacts, including the effect of manufacturing the packaging and the impact of disposing of it in landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released suggestions on how retailers can reduce the impact of their packaging on the environment. Many companies are voluntarily looking to reduce the environmental impact of their products' packaging.

Creation of Packaging

The creation of packaging uses natural resources, and that has independent environmental impacts. It requires water and electricity to create the product. Byproducts of manufacturing can cause unfortunate side effects. The creation of plastics, for example, emits toxic carbon monoxide and other undesirable organic compounds. In fact, many manufacturers admit that the creation of packaging costs more than the creation of the item to be packaged.

Landfills

In 2001, it is estimated that approximately 9.3 million tonnes of packaging waste was generated in the United Kingdom alone. Such waste almost always ends up in landfills. Much of the waste found in landfills is packaging waste. Much of this packaging, including polystyrene and other plastics, does not break down quickly. In fact, some of the packaging making its way to landfills does not break down at all, creating long-term environmental problems.

EPA Packaging Suggestions

The EPA has released suggestions to help manufacturers reduce the environmental impact of their packaging. Companies should aim to use less packaging material, which reduces the environmental as well as the economic impact of the packaging. Increasing the recycled content of the packaging and using recyclable materials can reduce items going into landfills. Finally, companies should support recycling by educating consumers on how to dispose of the packaging responsibly.

Voluntary Packaging Reduction

Although it is not mandatory, many companies are voluntarily reducing their packaging. Wal-Mart has created a five-year plan focused on its goal to reduce 667,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and the company aims to reduce packaging by 5 percent by 2013. Dell, seeking to be the greenest technological company, has revamped its packaging, including replacing cardboard with renewable pulp. Instead of Styrofoam, Dell is using recycled milk jugs. By 2012, Dell aims to reduce its packaging material by 20 million pounds.

About the Author

With a sport psychology master's degree and a successful coaching background, Stewart Flaherty has experience in improving performance in a number of areas. His articles specialize in sport psychology, nutrition and coaching.

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