business consumerism environment food lifestyle shopping waste

Ethical shopping – a guide to sustainable packaging

Part two of our series on understanding labels:

When entering a supermarket most of us undergo a strange transformation. We switch from an alert and attentive human being on the busy street to a vegetative shopper in search of the lowest price. We almost stoop to a state of semi-consciousness where we wander the aisles scanning the little grey bars below the product of our choice to find a price our pockets can afford before lobbing the item into our trolley. Do we ever look at the packaging?

Thinking about it, packaging is extremely important. Large amounts of time and effort is spent on designing catchy product cases that will draw our attention and persuade us to make a purchase. For example, its no coincidence that the candy section draws in children attracted to the brightly coloured bags of sweets. The packaging is merely there to lure your attention and make you place it in your trolley. After that, its job is done. Factories produce cartons and plastics en masse simply for transport and attractive purposes. Its something that is looked at once before hastily thrown away and exiled to landfill for the remainder of its existence. The point I’m making here is that most packaging is unsustainable, not only in the way its produced and thrown away, but in the length of it’s average life expectancy. As consumers we should ask more from our packaging. Lets decide we want more than pretty colours and a price tag. Lets demand sustainability!

So how exactly do we go about that? Surely we can’t walk into a supermarket, pick up some sustainability and take it too the checkout. Or can we? To some extent we do have a choice in what we chose. There are products out there with sustainable packaging, you just need to know where to look.

Paper Ream label sample

That would be the “ream label” (see example image). The symbols you want to look out for in this case are located on the second row, left of the bar code.

These are the symbols to look out for: (Copied from an article here)

Green Certification Programs

Forest Stewardship Council certified logo The Forest Stewardship Council certifies the paper came from sustainably harvested forests.
Green Seal logo Green Seal certifies many green products, including paper.
Environmental Choice logo Environmental Choice is a Canadian government environmental certification.

Recycled Content:
The chasing arrows symbol is the universal symbol of recycling. But some paper products are made from 100 percent recycled fibers, while others are partially made from recycled fibers.

Symbol which shows this product is made from 100 percent recycled fibers
When you see this symbol with the words “100% Recycled Fiber” or no words underneath, it means the product is made from 100 percent recycled fibers.
Symbol which shows what percent of this paper is made from recycled fibers This symbol, which lists the percent recycled below it, tells you the paper product was partially made from recycled fibers.

Chlorine Use
Many paper products are bleached and this uses chlorine or chlorine compounds which can be very damaging to the environment.

Symbol for Processed Chlorine Free This symbol is for recycled papers which have been processed without chlorine.
Symbol for Totally Chlorine Free This symbol is for non-recycled papers which have been processed without chlorine.

Next time you’re browsing through the supermarket, keep an eye out for environmentally friendly labels such as these.

Also, it is worth recycling. Increase the life expectancy of the packaging by buying recycled and then sending it back. At the end of the day, not all of us can afford to buy 100% farmers local produce, and even some organic produce may come in unsustainable packaging. For those of us who still resort to shopping in supermarkets, lets at least make the effort to scout the origins of our packaging as well as the prices. If there are items you regularly buy that have excessive packaging, write to the supermarket and tell them. All the major ones have promised to address it as a consumer concern, so they will thank you for it. More provocatively, remove the packaging on site, and leave it with the supermarket. A government minister even recommended this as a course of action a couple of years ago.

Recycling is good, but ultimately the most sustainable packaging is no packaging at all. Where we can, let’s choose unwrapped items – things like bananas come with their own after all.


  1. couldnt agree more – I have sourced several sustainable alternatives to plastic packaged goods which might be of interest

  2. Thanks for the links Ed, those are an interesting proposition, lining up the modes of transport like that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen length of storage profiled either. It would be nice if something with that kind of detail gained popularity.

  3. Lately, we in the packaging industry have been thinking a lot about the concept of sustainability, particularly as it relates to package design.The following, is the Message From the Chairman message I wrote for the most recent ASTM D10 Newsletter that helps clarify this issue and exactly what sustainability and sustainable packaging means, and will continue to mean, for our industry.

  4. Jeremy, you should check out doing a guest post on sustainable packaging coalition at DDL a leader in the packaging industry. They are inviting people in the packaging industry to create, guest packaging themed posts on their blog. On themes such as sustainability, package design, package testing etc.. learn more at DDL’s Blog .

  5. There are various glass and can crusher models
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    In Shijiazhuang the largest city in China’s Hebei province, levels
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