Tips for Closed Loop Product Design

All too often, the two ends of the packaging supply chain—the packaging designers and the recyclers—do not communicate effectively with each other.

“One of the barriers to effective communication along the packaging supply chain is the lack
 of informational resources explaining how design decisions affect recyclability,” says GreenBlue, a nonprofit that equips business with the science and resources to make products more sustainable.

The result of this poor communication? Non-recyclable packaging is created, material resources are sent to landfill, and a closed-loop system is never realized.

GreenBlue’s effort to fill this information and communications gap is a data-packed, 66-page report called “Closing the Loop: Design for Recovery Guidelines for Paper Packaging.”

So if you’re a designer who wants to create closed-loop packaging, here are important questions from GreenBlue’s report that you may want to consider:

Want your next package to fit into Recovery Systems? Here are a few questions to consider when designing your next package.

  • Have you included a step early in the packaging design process to determine the compatibility of your current and future packaging designs with recycling and composting processes?
  • Have you considered the availability and type of collection and sorting schemes for recycling or composting over the area where your package will be sold?
  • Has the probable fate of the package been considered? Is it beneficial (recycling, composting, waste-to-energy [in Europe]) or is it disposal (landfill or waste to energy [in U.S.])?
  • If the package is to be composted, are all components made of certified compostable biodegradable materials?
  • Consider when your packaging will become waste, for instance in retail or event venues, residential settings, or on-the-go. If the package tends to be disposed of with food waste, consider using packaging materials that easily compost to facilitate overall resource conservation.

Focus on Physical and Structural Design Elements to minimize addition of treatments or non-compatible materials.

  • Has an all-paperboard design been considered in place of a paperboard design with plastic inserts?
  • Can a blister pack be replaced with an all-paperboard pack with illustrations or photos?
  • Could more use be made of interlocking tabs instead of adhesives?
  • Can the package be strengthened locally to allow an overall reduction in additives, such as wet strength? For example, use corrugated microflutes (in compression), paper honeycomb, localized ribbing/thickening, etc.
  • Can multiple materials be avoided when one or two will meet performance specifications? The fewer types of chemicals, plastics, adhesives, etc. used in packaging production, the more likely they can be removed from the fiber to facilitate recycling and composting.
  • If multiple components of different materials are necessary, are they easily disassembled by the consumer in preparation for recycling or composting?

To add context to
 this guidance, the full document also provides an overview of fiber types used in packaging, the papermaking process, packaging collection and sorting, and the end-of-life options available for disposal of paper packaging.

To download a free copy of the complete 66-page report from GreenBlue, please click here.

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Copyright 2011 GreenBlue. This excerpt from “Closing the Loop: Design for Recovery Guidelines for Paper Packaging” is reprinted with permission.

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