Let’s be clear from the start: Woolcool® is a packaging company. We’re all about packaging. Packaging is our thing. So, it goes without saying that we believe in the importance of packaging. However, we understand the need for a review: a cold, hard and honest look at how the industry operates and the purpose of packaging within a supply chain, a chain that is demanding more environmental accountability.
Now, as the most visible symptom of worldwide pollution, packaging waste has become the focal point of public concern about single-use materials. The packaging industry, so expert at assisting in positioning positive brands, is in danger of developing an image problem of its own.
As a pioneer in the use of natural materials and sustainable thermal packaging in insulated packaging for food, you might expect Woolcool® to adopt a lofty position above all the controversy. After all, the real wool liners we use to insulate our packaging are not only 100% natural and abundant, they are compostable, recyclable and reusable.
After a decade of research and millions of pounds in investment, we boast a broad range of thermal packaging products that are scientifically proven to be superior to the polystyrene and plastic insulators that are clogging the world’s oceans and filling landfill.
Our CEO is the founder of the Natural Materials Association and as multi-award winners, our ecological credentials are unquestionable. When it comes to green issues, Woolcool® are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Yet if there is one thing that over two decades of development and research has shown us , it is that a realistic and pragmatic approach is key to creating sustainable packaging solutions. Because packaging is there to inform and protect us too, and we think it’s important to defend the packaging industry as it takes on the huge ecological challenges that we all face.
That’s why this blog is themed ‘in defence of packaging’. Like we said: packaging is our thing.
So, while food waste may have been cut, the natural result is more packaging waste. There are so many finely-balanced decisions like this when it comes to the impacts of modern packaging.
First and foremost, it is important to remember the actual reason for packaging. Packaging is often viewed as unnecessary, a significant and frustrating cost, a view which is further heightened in the current environmentally-conscious climate.
There are examples where this is the case, or where unnecessary amounts of packaging have now found their way into the supply chain. However, packaging in many cases is vital. It is protective, informative and provides security in shipments. Well-designed thermal insulation food packaging provides peace of mind.
Let’s take a look back at the origins of protective packaging.
Insulation and passive preservation have been a part of sea-going logistics for thousands of years, from goods pickled in alcohol to fish packed in ice. Insulated packaging for food is not new. The purpose of this was not only to keep the produce fresh, but to ensure it was safe to consume.
The advent of advertising and modern packaging, from the Victorian age onwards, turned packaging into an important platform to convey information to the consumer – not only design, brand messages and pricing but vital details about ingredients, allergens, nutritional information, use-by dates and safety warnings. Even our insulated box liners for shipping food can be designed to include important consumer messages, as well as carrying branding.
This crucial function of packaging – as a protector of public health – continually evolves, placing more responsibility on the packaging industry, while improving consumer safety. Think of the ‘five a day’ healthy eating scheme promoted by the authorities, or the simple ’traffic lights’ graphics that give at-a-glance information on ingredients.
Recently, for example, we have, as recently as last month, seen the introduction of “Natasha’s law”, under which food businesses will have to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged food to inform and protect those individuals who suffer from severe allergies.
Packaging can also provide details on a product’s origin, helping consumers support local businesses and helping shoppers choose items with a smaller carbon footprint.
When it comes to food, it is also true that packaging not only keeps produce fresh and safe to eat, it also cuts down on food waste, another of the pressing ecological issues faced by society.
Concerns over the waste of food led to the introduction of more packaging, such as shrink-wrapping vegetables or more robust plastics on the supermarket’s food aisles. So, while food waste may have been cut, the natural result is more packaging waste. There are so many finely-balanced decisions like this when it comes to the impacts of modern packaging.
Volume and multiple-layers in packaging are other factors in waste creation. Consumers often question the amount of packaging used on a product.
Yet, concerns over safety, performance and reliability often dictate how packaging companies choose to construct their products, while consumer convenience and pricing also plays a major part in decision making. Again, it is another issue that is not obviously solved. Safe and effective insulated thermal packaging for food, for instance, requires a certain number of layers. It is unavoidable.
In a world where customers want items brought to their door as quickly as possible, there are often concerns raised over the size of cardboard boxes that are used in deliveries. Yet, the commercial reality is if consumers expect door-to-door delivery, then businesses may have to opt for the most cost-effective solution to delivery this, which isn’t always the option that will be a perfect fit for all items.
The key thing is to ensure that sustainability is part of our conversation, as a society, when we consider how to deliver and protect products.
Woolcool®’s thermal insulation food packaging, for example, uses natural wool liners that take up far less space than cpolystyrene insulators, cutting transport costs and the carbon footprint of deliveries. Our solutions will require significantly less material and fewer ice packs to achieve the required performance levels than cardboard or paper based options. Sustainability has many parts to it, and we are committed to ensuring we are aware of our impact, whether its material use, carbon footprint, energy use or water use – we are constantly looking to the future to ensure our packaging is future-proofed for the challenges ahead.
The fact is, packaging firms react to consumer needs, whether it is safety concerns, design or convenience – and right now the industry is taking on its biggest challenge ever, by addressing the global issues of climate change and pollution.
As we grapple with these challenges, it’s vital that remember to not only deal with the ecological issues at hand, but also address the age-old concerns that have driven the packaging industry over the decades to improve and innovate.
We must, for instance, always think of the consequences of the changes we bring in and balance out the positive and negative. Efforts to cut food waste, for instance, has no doubt contributed in some way to the amount of plastic (and other materials) now being used in packaging.
As a pioneer of sustainable packaging, Woolcool® is leading the way. Our Circular Economy Scheme, for instance, allows customers to return the thermal insulated box liners for shipping food for re-use. This is a major step towards reduction in waste is to ensure re-use of a material is maximised. Without stating the obviously, reducing in the amount of virgin material being created results in a reduction in the volume of material left at the end of the chain.
Through, predominately use of natural materials, combined with using the right materials for the right application and not just the cheapest or easiest option, Woolcool® is developing packaging that not only protects the valuable items inside while protecting the planet – we still deliver the vital benefits of public safety and convenience expected in the 21st century.