OPINION: Toy packaging isn't a waste

What is sustainable packaging and does it even exist in today's market? Dr. Liz Wilks, European Stakeholder and Sustainability Manager for Asia Pulp and Paper, explains.
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Packaging is a vital part of the toy industry. It protects products, communicates their value to prospective customers and plays its part in enabling the entire modern toy industry to function.

Yet packaging has an image problem.

It is seen by some as an unsustainable waste, a burden on the consumer who has to first fight their way through the stuff, before finally working out how to dispose of it efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way.

It’s often said that sustainable packaging is the solution.

The problem of course, is that sustainable packaging doesn't exist.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to source renewable packaging, or packaging that biodegrades – but rather that the phrase ‘sustainable packaging’ can mean so many different things that it really means nothing at all.

PwC in its 2012 report Sustainable Packaging – Myth or Reality? concluded that the phrase sustainable packaging is now “too broad a term to be useful at a practical level”. Instead, the industry now needs to be looking at the full circle of “efficient packaging”.

Efficiency in packaging is a five-pronged approach, incorporating sourcing, the packaging’s role in protection, transport, display and, finally, what happens to it at the end of life.

Paper and board is returning to prominence due to the efficiencies in sourcing a renewable resource and its unrivalled performance from a disposal and recycling perspective. Where packaging display remains a pivotal concern, then smart design can create packaging that can be easily separated – enabling the use of other materials such as plastic or bioplastic windows in a cardboard box.

Yet the drive for efficiency in packaging is also taking other forms.

We’ve already seen smart design in packaging, where it becomes an integral part of the product. Mega Bloks recently combined the toy’s packaging and storage into one through a PVC-free ‘Building Bag’. This is an excellent example of a design that combines efficient sourcing, product protection, display efficiency and effective after-use and disposal.

Complaints from consumers that packaging in toys is wasteful or that it is too difficult to access should not be met with a shrug, but rather taken as a sign that as an industry, we must produce efficient packaging that is more consumer friendly.

By focusing on efficiency, from sourcing all the way through design and end of use, the industry can better communicate its value to consumers.

Modern toy packaging is not waste and it is time we turn this perception around.

About the author

Dr. Liz Wilks is currently developing a Masters in International Packaging at Cardiff Metropolitan University, in partnership with Helen Taylor, Head of the Packaging Innovation Group at the Zero2five Food Industry Centre. Visit www.asiapulppaper.com.

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