Under the terms of the 3rd Packaging Agreement negotiated between government and industry, it was agreed that a study should be commissioned with the twofold aim of improving the environmental impact methodology presently used for product packaging and assessing the scope for integrating environmental policy on packaging with overall product policy. CE and [Dutch accountants] KPMG have taken up the challenge and, backed up by a broad-based advisory committee (industry, government and environmental movement) and four practical case studies carried out at Campina, the Greenery, Philips and Unilever, have examined the scope for the envisaged policy innovations.
The main conclusion of the study is that an environmental methodology based on cradle-to-grave greenhouse emissions and ultimate landfill requirements would be far superior to the current approach, based solely on kilograms of packaging waste and recycling percentages. However, a methodology limited to just these two environmental ‘themes’ is inadequate for products in the wider sense, where eutrophication, groundwater depletion and any other impacts are also involved. The conclusion is that this particular environmental methodology provides no real perspective for fully integrating environmental policy on packaging and products.
The four case studies yielded one particularly interesting result: that extra packaging often benefits the environment, particularly where perishable goods are concerned. This is because the products in question have a 3 to 50 times greater environmental impact than their packaging and the environmental gains of avoiding product losses more than outweigh the burden associated with the extra packaging.