In this edition of our ‘In Conversation With…’ feature, Alena Maran, Avery Dennison’s Director of Marketing Strategy and Sustainability, LPM EMENA, gives us her views on how labels can play a significant role in unlocking packaging sustainability problems.
To start us off, could you give us your take on the pressures that brands are currently facing from consumers and policymakers alike in the field of packaging sustainability?
One of the key priorities for brand owners is to establish a relationship with consumers to be able to differentiate their products and services. In this relationship, packaging is among the critical tools that help brand owners to communicate with consumers and to influence their decision-making.
In recent years, the requirements for packaging sustainability features (e.g. targets on circularity, GHG emissions, etc) have exponentially accelerated. That is why brand owners are in the epicentre of complex relationships between policymakers, suppliers, retailers and recyclers.
Brand owners are expected to be at the forefront of this transformation to more sustainable and circular packaging and are expected to articulate these changes to consumers. Needless to say, it’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure.
I think it’s fair to say that, in this context, the focus is usually on the package itself, rather than its accompanying elements. Broadly speaking, what effects – both positive and negative – can labels have on the sustainability of a package?
It’s an interesting dynamic - the label, small yet significant, is a critical communication tool between the brand owner and consumer. However, when it comes to sustainable choices most efforts and resources are spent on choosing the best material and construct for a product’s packaging.
Meanwhile, the role of a label is often an afterthought that’s not considered until the end of the process. A label can impact the overall recyclability of the package, so it’s not something that should be left to chance.
When label selection is taken into consideration at the start of the process - through a process of EcoDesign - it can significantly improve the sustainability credentials of both the brand and the package. The right label can enable recycling rather than hinder it while branding the product in the desired way.
What are the benefits of viewing labels and packaging as one complete approach?
The label can support waste reduction, provide product origin information, give usage instructions, best-before dates, allergens, and also provide clear guidance on how to dispose of the packaging. The role of a label on the package is therefore undisputed.
Leaving it to the end of the design process is a real missed opportunity across the board.
Using an overarching development approach to packaging - where designers take into account each element from package type, to cap, to label - sits at the core of the EcoDesign approach.
If designers consider a combination of material and application options, they can retain their product integrity and ensure sustainability targets are upheld. The selection process also should include adhesives. Do you want the package to be reusable? Then the adhesive is of real importance. For the successful recyclability of the whole package, the label material together with the adhesive needs to be selected with care.
In light of this, I wonder if you could give us your views on the respective roles of consumers and brands in terms of securing a successful recycling outcome.
The burden of the enormous packaging footprint shouldn’t all be on the consumer. Consumers play a role in the process, but without clear instructions, there’s a risk that the material is not collected for recycling at all, or that incorrect disposal of packaging can contaminate batches of otherwise recyclable waste.
The goal of the industry is to support the end user, not the other way around. We believe that labels play a pivotal role: they give the consumer the information to support waste reduction, package reuse, and recycling.
What does the future hold for labelling-related packaging efforts on sustainability?
We exist in a world of fast-evolving policies, responding to growing pressures from consumers, from environmental groups, and from the packaging industry itself. What we need to see is alignment and collaboration to form a pathway to a more consistent approach to waste reduction and recycling.
Our industry needs to channel all efforts - through regional pilot schemes and real-world testing - to deliver sustainable solutions. We need to work together to understand the gaps, validate the best product design, drive package reuse and recyclability, and deliver industry-led solutions that we can all collectively get behind.
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