Taking in the PAC continuing education Ultimate Packaging Optimization course was a real eye-opener.
April 23, 2014
by Andrew Joseph, Canadian Packaging Features Editor
When PAC, Packaging Consortium president and chief executive officer Jim Downham e-mailed us here at Canadian Packaging last week to come out and check out the latest course they were offering as part of their PACed continuing education segment, I didn’t want to go because I’m always under deadline pressures, and didn’t want to lose a day in which I should be writing an article for our magazine.
But… I like the PAC and Jim Downham, so it really wasn’t too difficult a decision for me to go and check out this course.
The PAC and Canadian Packaging magazine respect and support one another in a symbiotic relationship that has been ongoing since each was formed some 60 years ago, so why wouldn’t I do my part to support the PAC?
I figured I’d sit in on the morning segment and then make some excuse to bugger off and go write one of those three magazine articles I’m supposed to write this month.
But… a funny thing happened at The Ultimate Packaging Optimization Workshop course… I really enjoyed myself and stayed the entire day.
Delivered by PACNext executive director Alan Blake (that’s him in the photo above at the front of the class) and program manger Rachel Morier, this PAC course was an eye-opener!
I’ve been working in the packaging industry for just over nine years now and consider myself a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-some kind of guy, but… I have never learned so much about the packaging industry as I did on April 22, 2014—the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, by the way.
This course was a learning experience… and anyone who knows me knows that I crave knowledge… and the PAC certainly delivered on that day.
The event attracted 13 participants—a few York University Environmental Studies students interning at the PAC and the rest were people involved in packaging design working for some big companies… and then, well… me… and while brazenly introducing myself as the media, I humbly called myself just an average consumer who might have a few opinions on packaging design on what I feel works and doesn’t work.
This course sought to provide an overview of packaging design and what works from a customer point of view who demands cost-effectiveness, shelf appeal and customer practicality while providing safety and transportation while at the same time delivering on sustainability concerns… and even taking things a step farther, having to be balanced against whether or not a package can actually be recycled… and then even if my municipality will recycle it!
These were all things I had not considered… sure, a few of them… but not all of them together.
Within the course, all of us participants had hands-on experience examining real consumer products to offer our pros and cons on them… why it worked and why it didn’t. All of the products seemed to have excellent use for the consumer, but the failures of each seemed to revolve around what to do with the package once the product was consumed.
While most claimed they were recyclable, it did not mean that it could be recycled in the town you lived in—and that was the rub.
One package we looked at was for a well-known and respected juice manufacturer. The bottle clearly states that it is a 1-recyclable product—stating so right on the label as opposed to being formed on the PET plastic bottle itself.
Anyone seeing this bottle would think nothing of dumping it into a Blue Box knowing it would be easily recycled.
But wait… we discovered that the label was actually a PVC heat-shrink sleeve… and that the sleeve was not recyclable… at least not in Toronto.
So… the bottle and lid can be recycled, but the sleeve label can not.
The option for the consumer is to then remove the sleeve and place that into garbage destined for landfill, to ensure that the bottle is recycled cleanly.
But… the sleeve was not easily removable… there was no perforation allowing the easy removal… the only option would be for the consumer to go and get a knife or scissors and attempt to remove without removing skin or other body parts, something I am not that good at.
We didn’t try because while we agreed that it could be done, what consumer would actually do that? Who would know that they should remove the sleeve label do that? Certainly not the masses.
And yet, with the “Recyclable” notation clearly marked on the sleeve, one would think it’s all good.
One could almost call this greenwashing, except that I’m sure the company would claim that it is recyclable in some areas, just not all.
It was almost as though the package designers and brand owners are putting the onus on the municipalities to come up with solutions and resources to deal with the issues they have created.
This PAC course was, it seems, a way for us all to look at how packaging is created and to try and find that optimal balance between use and refuse.
A difficult conundrum indeed, but one we all felt was solvable… perhaps just not within the limited scope of our one-day PAC educational class.
In my opinion, the PAC, Packaging Consortium needs to offer more courses like this—but not just to its member constituents.
It needs to offer this course, in a smaller more condensed version perhaps, to our youth… to go into our high schools and elementary schools.
The youth are Canada’s future, and getting them thinking about packaging optimization and waste management will help change the Canadian mindset about real expectations from the packaging we use.
I don’t know if that’s a feasible option for the PAC, but perhaps working with the school boards and using the PAC interns could be the way to go.
Education will affect change in the packaging industry.
It certainly worked with me over the past nine years and again most intensively over this PAC one-day course. Now it’s time to educate the citizenry.
If it can be done, I know the PAC will figure out a way to do it.
Kudos again to Rachel, Alan and Jim (and the bosses at Canadian Packaging) for offering me a unique educational opportunity.