Green packaging has become one of the latest buzzwords in the packaging industry. As a renewed interest in green living builds, reducing the negative impact traditional packaging can have on the environment becomes a hot topic. Green packaging can be the solution.

Many factors are leading this trend toward heightened restrictions on packaging across the globe. From taxes on plastic bags to campaigns against bottled water, retailers are hearing the call for reduced packaging or a dependence upon green packaging. The biggest driver may actually be coming from one of the world’s largest retailers – Wal-mart.

The shift in environmental regulations has come as a result of heightened public concern. In addition, globalization is leading to an increased amount of non-US regulatory systems, which set environmental regulations. Corporate responsibility may ultimately be the tipping point that leads to full green packaging adoption, as well as waste management compliance. When major retailers like Wal-mart adopt their own standards, the packaging industry may be forced to comply or face a negative backlash.

Global environmental regulations
The European Union (EU) system has created a directive which imposes responsibility for minimizing the creation of packaging waste. This directive also puts the responsibility for promoting energy recovery, re-use, and recycling of packaging materials on packaging manufacturers. Material-specific recycling targets have also been established for glass, paper and board, metals, plastics, and wood. Packaging manufacturers now have more responsibility than ever, and green packaging will help meet this responsibility.

The EU’s new regulatory system, called REACH, is also in effect. REACH is the registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals. Although REACH specifically addresses chemicals, it is not limited to chemical manufacturers. The system will also regulate how supporting companies downstream use chemicals, and their impact on the environment. REACH is expected to put more pressure on the US for laws imposing disclosure obligations regarding chemicals used in packaging and other products.

Retailers imposing their will
The global systems for regulating the packaging industry are sure to lead to green packaging becoming more common. Green living initiatives will also help set the stage, as more and more consumers become aware of their carbon footprint. Thus, the biggest driver may come from the private sector. Large retailers who create initiatives and programs to protect their brands by creating a change to greener packaging can have a tidal wave impact, compared to the ripple effect expected from government system changes.

Sometimes, due to a lack of enforcement for those violating the government regulations, companies unwilling to switch to better systems can fall under the radar. This is less likely to happen when major retailers are imposing their own restrictions. Wal-Mart is creating its own “scorecard” initiative. This initiative will measure its worldwide packaging suppliers on their ability to use less packaging, more effective materials, and to source these materials more efficiently. Their initiative will also rate suppliers using specific metrics which relate to their impact on the environment.

If the EU’s system doesn’t increase the move to green packaging, Wal-Mart’s initiative will, as well as the initiatives of other major retailers. The marketplace is changing in relation to green packaging. It is time for companies to fully embrace green packaging and become well versed on the solution.