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Sustainability in packaging

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This article was published on 5 November 2018

New Zealand is facing a waste crisis.

With China no longer accepting certain types of waste, and local recycling infrastructure still in its infancy, NZ businesses face difficult choices when trying to address environmental concerns about packaging.

At Callaghan Innovation, we are already working with businesses developing innovative solutions to packaging problems, such as FoodCap.  Early next year, we will also be launching an Environmental Innovation Programme that, together with a broad range of partners, will help grow, and even create, thriving environmental enterprises.

In the meantime, our future insights manager for advanced materials, Dr Kirsten Edgar, has developed a rough guide to some of the factors businesses should take into account when considering the sustainability of their packaging.

The guide is pictured below, along with an explanation of some of the issues involved.

The sustainability of packaging in New Zealand

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Relevant factors businesses should consider

Start of life

Plastics 1&2 — Less than 1% renewable; fracking and drilling harms the environment; all packaging plastics shipped in.

Other plastics — Less than 1% renewable; fracking and drilling harms the environment; all packaging plastics shipped in.

Aluminium/steel — Non-renewable source; open pit mining harms the environment; aluminium sourced offshore but iron sands mined onshore.

Paper/card — NZ forests renewable; fossil fuel used for harvesting but can be mitigated; wood locally sourced, but some pulp and paperboard shipped in.

Glass — Sand very slow to renew; open pit mining and sea bed dredging harms the environment; sand, dolomite and limestone mined onshore.

Lifetime

Plastics 1&2 —Medium energy use and pollution to make and shape; lightweight and can be tightly packed; good for perishables and robust.

Other plastics — Medium energy use and pollution to make and shape; lightweight and can be tightly packed; good for perishables and robust.

Aluminium/steel — Medium-to-high energy use and pollution to make and shape; not too heavy and ok for packing density; good for perishables and robust.

Paper/card — High water and medium energy use to make and shape; lightweight and ok for packing density; poor for perishables and prone to damage.

Glass — High energy use to make and shape; heavy but ok for packing density; good for perishables but prone to catastrophic damage.

End of life

Plastics 1&2 — Local recycling but some sent offshore; not compostable; not biodegradable.

Other plastics — Mostly sent offshore for recycling; low percentage compostable in NZ; low percentage biodegradable.

Aluminium/steel — Mostly sent offshore for recycling; not compostable; not biodegradable but will eventually rust.

Paper/card — Local recycling but some sent offshore; poor compostability in NZ; will biodegrade easily only if uncoated.

Glass — Recycled in Auckland and some downcycled; not compostable; not biodegradable but will eventually wear down to sand.

Key resources

  1. Packaging design checklist, Packaging New Zealand
  2. Biodegradable and compostable plastics in the environment, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, July 2018
  3. Packaging: the complete lifecycle assessment, Owens-Illinois, Inc
  4. Resource use expected to double by 2050, United Nations Environment Programme, Dec 2017
  5. The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade, Science Advances, June 2018