Ecological and social footprint

A great number of trees have to be cut down in order to manufacture ‘virgin’ paper. Paper and board can only be recycled seven times before it has to be mixed with new fibres. It is important to recycle paper and boards as this will have less impact on the environment through factors such as deforestation, which can then lead to soil erosion. Deforestation has a huge effect on the ecosystem and the people and specific breeds of animals that rely on them.

Many companies now replant trees to replace the ones they have removed, although it will take many years for them to grow back. It is important this is managed well, as there has been poor management of this in the past. The biggest problem is the use of hardwood trees, which take many years to mature. Hardwood trees take a long time to grow, around 60 years (sometimes up to 100). In comparison, softwood trees like pine take just 25 years.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. It provides certification for companies so that consumers know that there has been some responsible management of the forests. Their logo appears on many packaged products.

Food packaging label with the FSC logo with recycle logos for paper and plastic.

Whenever environmental impact is to be reduced, ‘the 6 Rs’ can be addressed to ensure an in-depth analysis has been done. The 6 Rs can be considered by the designer, the manufacturer and the consumer to reduce that negative impact on the environment.

Considering the 6 Rs when designing food packaging

The 6 Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, refuse and repair illustrated around a rubbish bin.

The 6 Rs

The term ‘the 6 Rs’ can be applied to the design of new products or when a product is finished with, used up or no longer wanted. Here are some questions to prompt 6 Rs thinking:

  • Reduce - Think of a package that was bought recently. Could any part of the packaging be reduced?
  • Reuse - Rather than disposing of a package once you have opened it, could it not be reused?
  • Recycle - Many papers and boards are made from material that is fully or partly recyclable. Can the paper or board be disposed of correctly so that it can be recycled?
  • Rethink - Rethink how actions contribute to damaging the environment. Rather than buying a coffee that is served in a disposable, laminated card cup, why not buy a cup that can be refilled?
  • Refuse - Consumers have a huge amount of power when it comes to the choices they make when buying, including refusing to buy a product if they believe it is bad for the environment. Could a material that is sustainable be used instead?
  • Repair - Many products are designed to be obsolete after a given period. When a product is broken, can it be repaired rather than discarded? If a repair can be carried out on the product, it could remain out of a landfill site for much longer.