The low global price of oil is a double-edged sword that spreads its pains and gains in fairly arbitrary ways, though rarely to the benefit of the average Joe Public consumer.
Sure, it is a little cheaper to drive around nowadays compared to a couple of years ago, but not enough to make a huge game-changing positive impact on the disposable incomes consumers have at the end of the day, while the prices of meat, produce, dairy and most other everyday staples that rely on long distance transport to get to market have remained on their perennial climb upwards.
For all this asymmetry though, the big picture impact of cheap oil may be even more detrimental to the higher cause of environmental sustainability, as consumers, corporations and governments slip back to their former gas-guzzling ways at the expense of stymieing the considerable progress made during the last decade in the development of renewable energy and, more to the point, sustainable packaging solutions.
This is an especially worrying scenario in the manufacture of plastic product packaging, where the high oil prices of recent years had accelerated the development of bioplastics and other sustainable packaging options.
But now that the price of oil is largely out of the equation, the risk of sliding back into the previous mindset of blissful ignorance or indifference cannot be underestimated enough, in our humble opinion.
Having invested so much capital, resources, time and effort into the development of ecologically-friendly alternatives, stopping that progress dead in its tracks would be an unforgivable setback.
Considering that the development of sustainable packaging—renewable, recyclable, reusable, compostable, biodegradable et al—is still in its infancy stages in the greater historic context, some new generation
packaging alternatives that have become commercially feasible are simply astonishing in their scientific merit and commercial promise.
While space prevents us from listing them all here, the biodegradable, fungus-based Mushroom Packaging (see image at top) developed by the U.S.-based firm Ecovative ticks all the boxes for sustainable packaging ingenuity—being both 100-percent renewable and compostable, while offering a generally affordable alternative to traditional polystyrene foam, with all its end-of-life costs and a heavy carbon-footprint legacy.
Only a few weeks ago, global furniture giant Ikea announced plans to replace the use of polystyrene to pack some of its furniture shipments with the aforementioned fungi packaging.
Considering that the first prototype package sample of this mushroom packaging was only unveiled four years ago at PACK EXPO International 2012, the use of this once-experimental material to protect product shipments of a global corporate heavyweight in such short space of time says as much about Ikea’s commitment to environmental protection as it does to the potential of sustainable packaging to make a real positive impact on the planet. Giving up on that potential now would be a shame of the century for us all.
This editorial can be found in the April 2016 magazine edition of Canadian Packaging.