It’s said that as a nation, Americans generate more consumer waste than any other country in the world. We’re told to reduce, reuse, and recycle to make a greener and more sustainable planet.
Consumer waste not only contributes to our landfills but uses valuable resources during production that could be conserved. Energy and water is needed to produce raw materials as well as the power used in production. Excess packaging and weight use more resources for warehousing, shipping, and distribution.
The packaging industry is doing its part. It continues to improve materials to extend the life of food products and to better identify food past its expiration date (or not) to lessen food spoilage and waste. New materials and technologies are reducing the amount of primary and secondary packaging needed, and science continues to research and develop better recyclable materials.
And now, a coalition in the United Kingdom wants to tackle Unintentional Product Residue (UPR) waste. It’s the unavoidable waste which the consumer does not make a conscious decision to generate or dispose of. Huh? Examples include the toothpaste leftover in the tube or the strong-bond epoxies that harden in their containers after the first use.
Waste is waste, and valuable resources are being used to produce these products with known UPR. Therefore, the Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN), Boots UK, WRAP, and Leatherhead Food Research have joined together to shed light on this topic.
In their recently published “The Bit At The Bottom: A Guide To Help Consumers Get The Last Bit Out”, their call for action is for companies to manage and minimize UPR during a product’s design phase.
A study found that 92% of the samples contained usable product but it had not been extracted. Half the consumers knew the package contained residues but were unable to extract them or for another reason did not use them. The other half thought the package was empty.
The remaining 8% of the samples contained unusable product. Product intended to be used occasionally often had UPR, therefore, the remaining product became unfit for use.
In order to lessen UPR, companies need to consider the nature of the product, the design of the packaging, and how the consumer uses the product along with its packaging.
Good packaging design choices may include: wider openings to allow access, removable closures, materials with less drag when dispensing, no sharp corners, packaging standing upside-down, windows to show the level of product remaining, or instructions to get that last bit out.
“Minimization of UPR should be taken into account early in the design phase. It should be part of the development process of any product and its packaging. It should be consciously managed and not just be an unintended consequence,” says the coalition.