Sustainable Packaging Solutions: Past, Present and Future
Dow has a rich past, present, and future in sustainable packaging solutions. We collaborate with brand owners, converters, manufacturers, and designers to apply science to packages that use less, weigh less, and create less waste.
Past innovations have led to positive changes not only in the packaging materials and technology, but also in culture. Historians credit Dow packaging technology with helping enable the advent of self-service shopping and supermarkets.
Today, we are focused on redefining packaging again, for greater sustainability. And we are working with futurists to predict, and ultimately help our customers produce sustainable packaging solutions that have yet to be imagined.
Then And Now
While sustainable packaging is a relatively recent phenomenon, the thinking behind it has been integral to Dow packaging science, and business collaboration, for nearly a century.
Dow is committed to the development of innovative and sustainable packaging solutions. This starts with our own products and processes, along with an ongoing commitment to reducing our environmental footprint globally.
Focusing on our Carbon Footprint
Through upgraded equipment and optimized scheduling, Dow has reduced annual emissions of CO2 by 34 million pounds, saved 7.5 million pounds of ethylene-finished product, and conserved 16 million pounds of non-renewable natural resources.
Plant upgrades to ethylene furnaces have saved approximately 540 billion BTUs of energy – enough to power 3,800 households. This has also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 tons/year. Since 2003, CO2 emissions have dropped by 40%, and BTUs consumed per pound of production have decreased by 50% while production has increased by 20%.
Reducing Our Water “Footprint”
One notable sustainable packaging solution that uses less comes from the Dow facility in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, where a range of packaging resins and other materials are manufactured. Our facility there achieved an annual reduction of 100,000 m³ of fresh water intake, decreasing the water footprint by improving efficiency at the site’s cooling tower. This reduction of fresh water is equivalent to the water consumed by more than 700 average Dutch households.
The project also improved safety at the site by reducing acid deliveries by truck from 130 to only 15 per year, creating a positive impact by reducing CO2 emissions. Dow Dordrecht also installed water purification technologies that allowed reuse of water, reduced consumption of purchased water, and eliminated water discharge into the Merwede River by 265,000 m3 (70 million US gallons).
Collaborating With CustomersMany Dow innovations that lead to sustainable packaging solutions come about as the result of business-specific collaborations with our customers. By listening to their needs, Dow is able to effectively develop scalable new packaging structures and optimize them for performance, cost- effectiveness, and sustainability. Sustainability becomes not just good corporate citizenship, but a better way to do business.
Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Thinking
When considering sustainability in packaging, key tools are the use of Life Cycle Assessments and Life Cycle Thinking. An LCA can be defined* as an environmental management tool that assess the overall environmental performance of a particular product or service, and considers the whole life cycle, from cradle to grave, and a wide range of impact categories. For more information, see the ISO 14040 series of standards.
Life Cycle Assessments and Life Cycle Thinking applies not just to products and packages themselves, but to the whole life cycle, from cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle and includes the impacts of raw material sourcing, manufacture, product production, packaging, transportation, distribution, retail, consumer use and then post-use recovery or disposal.
In the packaging space using life cycle thinking you should assess both the package AND the product being packaged. For example, you don’t want to improve the footprint of the package but negatively impact the footprint of the product. This could occur when packaging is light-weighted too much, causing the product inside to spoil or become damaged in transit. Therefore, Dow does not just look at one aspect such as light-weighting in assessing a solution, we look for a better outcome overall. We consider the full impact of the product and package via Life Cycle Analysis or Life Cycle Thinking, making sure that a packaging change does not result in more product waste. One example is the sustainable packaging solution in Brazil’s agricultural chemical sector.
Focusing on Big Solutions
Brazil’s agriculture industry accounts for 30% of its GDP and directly touches the lives of many of its citizens. When it was discovered that empty agricultural chemical bottles were being used to carry water, it was clear that action had to be taken. Following the passage of a law outlining the proper disposal of empty agricultural chemical containers, inPEV (National Institute for the Processing of Empty Packaging) was formed. This non-profit organization brought together manufacturers of agricultural chemicals, including Dow, and industry organizations. Between 2002 and 2010, this collaboration successfully led to:
- Recycling 150,000 tons of containers
- Elimination of more than 160,000 tons of CO2 equivalents
- The creation of 2,500 new jobs
Dow resins and compatibilizers play a major role in the sustainable packaging system that continues to serve Brazil today. Dow calls the entire process the Virtuous Cycle.
Six Areas of Focus
To continue driving sustainable packaging solutions, Dow is focused on six key areas in our materials and process development with converters and brand owners:
- Optimized materials usage
- Reduced energy use
- Reduced shipping weights
- Increased use of recyclable materials
- Increased product life and less spoilage
- Increased reuse and recycling
Ultimately, we seek sustainable packaging solutions that create business efficiencies, or even enable new business models, as we continue to apply unique material science in collaboration with customers around the world.
*Definitions from cefic.org, the European Chemical Industry Council