ISO Tackles Packaging and the Environment Reply

Packaging is a major issue in sustainability.  It uses a lot of resources and creates waste when the shipped goods are unpacked.  Packaging also adds to the weight of the shipped goods thus increasing the generation of greenhouse gas emissions for the transportation.  Organizations have been working on this issue for years now.  Each entity has its own way of dealing with the effects of packaging on their sustainability.  The outcome has resulted in the development of parochial views of how to control packaging and packaging waste in their operations.  The development of regulations associated with the use of packaging can affect international commerce by forcing companies to comply with multiple regional and national dictates. 

In an effort to encourage trade and minimize these business disruptions, an ISO technical committee (TC 122) has formed a subcommittee to look at “packaging and the environment.”  This committee has been looking into how the use of resources can be minimized, while maintaining the function of the packaging.  They are also looking into how used packaging can be recovered, reused and recycled.  The starting point for the standard setting process is the European Union “Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive” (94/62/EC).  This directive establishes requirements that are currently used in the European Economic Area.  Included are the following requirements:

  • Packaging and packaging waste weight and volume should be minimized to the amount needed for safety and acceptance of the packed product
  • Noxious and other hazardous constituents of the packaging should have minimum impact on the environment at their end-of-life
  • Packaging should be suitable for material recycling, energy recovery, composting or reuse.

The committee is also considering a number of similar Asian guidelines.  The goal of the effort is to harmonize all standards and guidelines into a series of ISO international standards by 2012.

The United States (U.S.) has been lagging behind in its development of standards related to packaging sustainability.  However, this is about to change.  The U.S. has formed a delegation to work with TC 122.  There is stong interest within U.S. corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in support of this participation. 

International standards would be an important contribution to support the free movement of products in international trade.  It would also help companies that are using sustainability management systems (SMS) to make packaging an important part of their sustainability efforts. If you are a user or receiver of large amounts of packaging, you will need to follow these efforts closely for the next couple of years.