A reaction to the assertion that the packaging industry has over-focused on environmental R #1, Reduce.

By Bob Lilienfeld, guest columnist and Editor, The ULS Report  

In his latest Editor’s Note (January/February 2012, p. 8;Accentuating the positive in sustainable packaging), Rick Lingle mentioned that his discussion with ConAgra’s Gail Tavill hit him like a ton of bricks. The reason? She mentioned that the packaging industry has given too much attention to R # 1 (Reduce).  

Believe it or not, as the Editor ofThe ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report,I couldn’t agree more with Gail. Reducing material use is not the best way to improve the sustainable value of packaging. In fact, sometimes the best thing to do is to use more packaging.  Why? Because, as I’ve mentioned before, the role of a package should be to ensure that its contents are delivered with 100% of the aesthetics and functionality that are expected and paid for by the ultimate consumer.  

This is where we need a bit of clarification. Regardless of the amount of material it uses, a truly sustainable package DOES help us to use less stuff. It does so by reducing the potential waste associated with spoiled food, broken electronics, contaminated medications, and crushed beverage containers.  

Thus, I believe that Gail’s true point is that the objective of sustainable packaging initiatives should not be to reduce packaging mass, but to optimize overall value by ensuring maximum product usability with minimum product waste and resource consumption.  

Now we’re talking sustainable development. And now we have a very worthy, exciting, and important role for packaging to play. Let’s make sure that customers, consumers, retailers, legislators, and the media understand this value.  

Robert M. Lilienfeld is a Fox TV environmental commentator and Editor of The ULS (Use Less Stuff) Report, a newsletter dedicated to conserving resources and reducing waste. Along with Dr. William J. Rathje, he co-authored the book Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are and the 1995 landmark New York Times Op-Ed piece entitled Six Enviro-Myths. His website is www.Use-less-stuff.com