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Popular Packaging Attributes

When making purchasing choices we often make assumptions about the environmental-friendliness of a product based on the descriptions on the packaging. It is common to see characteristics, or “attributes,” describing the material used such as made from recycled or bio-based material, and what we can do with the package after the product is removed (e.g. whether it is recyclable or compostable). Many people assume that these attributes convey reduced environmental impacts relative to other options without that same attribute. But, how well do these descriptors actually predict lower impacts across the entire packaging life cycle? That is what DEQ wanted to understand because a lot of time, energy and money is spent on developing packaging to be fully recyclable or compostable, or to be made from biobased and recycled materials.
Research question: How well do popular packaging attributes correlate with net environmental benefit across the full life cycle of packaging from resource extraction to manufacture, distribution, use, and discard?
Four attributes were examined:
  • Recycled content
  • biobased
  • recyclable
  • compostable
In 2017, DEQ’s Materials Management engaged Franklin Associates, a division of Eastern Research Group, to do a literature review of existing research done worldwide during the past two decades on the topic to glean high-level findings for packaging and food service ware. Specifically, DEQ was interested in understanding how successful common packaging attributes are at predicting reduced environmental outcomes. We wanted to understand where and when the relationship between attributes and the inferred environmental preference holds true and the scale of impact reduction. This research is the first of its kind and tests the connection between common attributes for packaging and food service ware and environmental outcomes.

Summaries and reports

Questions and answers about these reports


Cami Picollo
Materials Management Program