Elimination is the first of the five ‘Sustainable Packaging Options’ which help to reduce and minimize the environmental impacts of food and produce packaging.
While plastic packaging plays a vitally important role of protecting and preserving the efficacy of products and reducing food waste, there may be cases when the package could be eliminated outright in order to support the plastics circular economy. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), “the ‘elimination’ area of action, where problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging are redesigned, innovated, and replaced with new delivery models, is an area which urgently needs to be implemented, and should be built into standard product-packaging system design considerations”. Others believe that while some plastic packaging may be eliminated, redesigning the package to be circular and making the required long-term investments to improve collection, sortation and recycling systems will have a greater impact.
The elimination of plastic packaging consists of ‘direct’ and ‘innovative’ elimination, and includes ‘reduction’, which differ depending on whether the package serves an essential function¹ or not.
¹Essential Functionality – of packaging includes the necessary protection, containment, convenience, communication, or efficiency functions.
Direct Elimination Is when the packaging does not serve an essential function¹ and can therefore be eliminated altogether without any significant adjustments, innovation, or loss of product value. Direct elimination of a flexible plastic package does not mean substitution to another material.
Potential direct elimination examples include; mesh packaging for fresh fruit and vegetables; plastic bags/wraps on broccoli, cabbages and bananas; plastic magazine covers; plastic covers for bed sheets, pillow cases and clothes; multi-pack wrapping for gum, chocolate bars, etc.; and plastic film wrapping for board games, playing cards, greeting cards, etc. For food and produce packaging, this includes the selling of loose produce.
Assessing opportunities for direct elimination of flexibles should be done critically and on an ongoing basis, and should keep the entire product and packaging system in mind to avoid unintended consequences (i.e., overall increases in food waste which can lead to higher GHG emissions, etc.).
EMF estimates that direct elimination opportunities could be as large as 5-10% of the flexibles market.
Innovative Elimination is when the packaging that does serve an essential function¹ is indirectly eliminated through innovation. In the case of food and produce packaging, examples include edible coatings for fresh produce that extend shelf life. Other forms of innovative elimination could be redesigning products so that they don’t require packaging (e.g., reformulating liquid products into solids, like shampoo bars), or rethinking business models to develop reusable packaging systems (E.g., refillable or returnable packaging). Solving the challenge of flexibles will require continuous, ambitious innovation to eliminate the use of single-use flexible packaging over time, while still satisfying the essential functions¹ of the package.
Reduction refers to reducing the quantity of packaging materials used, while preserving essential functionality¹. This includes ‘light-weighting’, eliminating unnecessary headspace, converting to top-seal packaging designs, and choosing lighter gauge flexible films.
- ‘Elimination’ video, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
- ‘Practical Guides on Packaging Reduction and Management’
- ‘Roadmap to strengthen the management of single-use and disposable plastics’
- ‘Upstream Strategies – Elimination’, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
- US Plastics Pact ‘Problematic and Unnecessary Materials Report’, US Plastics Pact
- ‘Why ‘Elimination’ Won’t Solve the Packaging Pollution Problem’, FPA FlexPack Voice