As the global community converges at COP28 UAE to reshape the climate agenda, industries across the spectrum are compelled to reassess their roles in fostering sustainability.

One sector facing a critical juncture in this regard is packaging, as it grapples with the need to align with the broader Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals outlined at the conference.

The packaging industry, according to Peter Macqueen, a packaging educator at Sheffield Hallam University, finds itself at a crossroads concerning the integration of ESG practices.

Macqueen aptly points out that the packaging sector is not a singular entity but a diverse landscape with various challenges, legislative variations, and conflicting priorities across different manufacturing and distribution sectors.

“The complexities stem from the wide range of activities, legislative divergence between territories, and differing perspectives on priorities – while the simple reason is that there is no single packaging industry,” Macqueen notes, highlighting the intricate web of challenges facing the packaging sector.

Shifting paradigms: the evolution of packaging’s core functions

For decades, packaging has operated primarily as a techno-economic function rather than a distinct sector with a unified approach. Each facet of manufacturing or distribution comes with its unique set of challenges, creating discrete chains of necessities that contribute to the overall complexity.

Moreover, with individual actors often in direct competition and conflicting evidence regarding the sustainability potential of their offerings, the market becomes volatile and challenging for both supply chain professionals and consumers.

Macqueen emphasises that the core functions of packaging, encapsulated in the ‘3 Ps’ – Protect, Preserve & Promote – have been pivotal in shaping the industry.

However, he suggests that a new paradigm is needed, advocating for the recognition of the ‘3 Rs’ – Reduce, Recycle & Reuse – and the ‘3 Is’ – Include, Inform & Invent – as equal and essential components of a revised ‘Modern Duty’ for packaging.

“The need to place ‘Reduce, Recycle & Reuse’ is long established, and the backbone of most packaging legislation, the foundation of a circular future. But for true, tripartite sustainability, then it’s time to consider ‘Include, Inform & Invent’ alongside the Protect, Promote & Preserve,” Macqueen explains.

Packaging’s modern duty: navigating global change at COP28

In the context of COP28, Macqueen urges the packaging industry to recognise the significance of adopting a holistic, identifiable, and unifiable approach.

He argues that while global outcomes may not immediately address local problems, there is a single path that all packaging stakeholders can adopt for meaningful global change.

“Now is the time to recognise that the disparate and vibrantly competitive packaging sector has a holistic, identifiable, unifiable path laid out for us – not just a Duty of Packaging, but a Modern Duty,” Macqueen asserts.

As the world focuses on climate action at COP28, the packaging industry stands at the forefront of a transformative journey, poised to embrace a Modern Duty that integrates environmental responsibility, social inclusivity, and innovative solutions.

By aligning with the principles of Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, Include, Inform, and Invent, the packaging sector can bridge the gap between tradition and progress, steering towards a sustainable future.Top of Form

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