July 28, 2020

​Do you know the difference between compostable and biodegradable? Did you know bioplastics is an ambiguous term? And do you think sustainability stops with recyclability?

Navigating the world of sustainable packaging can be a challenge for even the best-versed Consumer Packaged Goods professionals. A general lack of clear, concise advice adds to the confusion. Knowing where to turn for impartial answers is another dilemma.

That’s why Sonoco has produced a new eBook: 20 Questions Commonly Asked About Packaging Sustainability, Materials, Labeling and Recycling. In it we detail 20 need-to-knows about sustainable packaging considerations and terminology.

20 Questions Commonly Asked About Packaging Sustainability, Materials, Labeling, and Recycling - E-book

Laura Rowell, Sonoco’s Former Director of Global Sustainability,  explains more.

Why is sustainable packaging such a hot topic?

“Two reasons. The first is that CPGs are under enormous pressure to satisfy customer demands for more natural and more sustainable experiences – in both product and packaging. Traditional packaging methods are falling under much sharper scrutiny, both because of the ocean plastics debate and growing global awareness about climate change. Increasingly, CPGs are also discovering that sustainability isn’t just a must-do. Instead, it’s an incredible opportunity to perform better on profitability, efficiency, and market share.”

Why publish the eBook?

“Sustainability can seem much more complicated than it actually is, and a large part of that is the  confusion over terminology. For example, the word ‘bioplastics’ is a common industry term, but it can actually mean two different things – either bio-based plastics or biodegradable plastics. These are two separate things. Hopefully the eBook will help eradicate some confusion in the marketplace.”

What’s one of the most common questions you’re asked?

“ ‘Should we stop using plastic packaging?’ is a big one. The answer is often ‘no’. Cynics might think that Sonoco produces plastic-based packaging, so I’m bound to say that. But, we are actually packaging-neutral and focus first on the demands of the product to be packaged.  The solution may be paper or it may be plastic – it depends on the product.  The example I always give is on shelf-life. If, by extending shelf-life, a plastic package is better than alternatives at reducing the growing problem of food waste, then it is the best solution. Not a lot of people know how damaging landfilling food waste is for the environment – the amount of GHG emissions food waste generates is significant and preventable.”

Is introducing recyclable packaging enough?

“It’s a great step, but it’s only a single step. We urge our customers to think about the environmental impact of the product’s packaging, not just end of life – this includes responsible raw material sourcing. There is a lot of nuance around ‘recyclability’ too. It's not enough for packaging just to be made of a  material that can technically be recycled. We consider true recyclability, which means more than a label that says the item can be recycled. It means packaging has to meet our four criteria to be considered sustainable. These criteria are:

  • Can the consumer put it in the bin?
  • Can their local material recovery facility (MRF) sort it properly?
  • Can the processor turn the packaging into a usable recycled material?
  • Lastly, does someone want to buy the recycled material and turn it into a new package or product?

What is the best thing about working in sustainability?

“Often it’s that moment of surprise when our customer realizes some of the other benefits that come along with introducing more sustainable packaging. At the start of their journey they might think this is something they have to do because their customers demand it. By the end of the journey, their perspective changes. They know they’ve done something brilliant because they are saving money, saving on emissions, and building end-consumer demand – and all because they did the right thing.” 

To read the full eBook, download the document below.


20 Questions Commonly Asked About Packaging Sustainability, Materials, Labeling, and Recycling - E-book



  • Social Responsibility
  • sustainability