A holistic Approach to Design Support for Bio-Polymer Based Packaging

Research Area:
Sustainable Design


Journal of Polymers and the Environment

SMART Authors:
Shahin Rahimifard , James Colwill

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The growing interest in bio-polymers as a packaging material, particularly from companies looking to reduce their environmental footprint, has resulted in wider adoption. Traditionally the selection and specicification of packaging materials was based on aesthetic, technical and financial factors, for which established metrics exist. 

However with bio-polymers, where the primary rationale for their use is environmental, alternative metrics are required. Furthermoe, there is a significant stratgeic element to the decision process that requires a broader range of horizontal and vertical inputs, both within the business and the wider supply chain. It is therefore essential that a holistic approach is taken to the bio-polymer based packaging design process to ensure that the final packaging meets the original strategic intent and overall requirements of the business. Current ecopackaging design tools are generally limited to professional users, such as designers or packing engineers, and generally provide tactical rather than strategic support. This disconnect, between the need for inclusivity and greater strategic support in holistic design, and the exclusivity and largely tactical support of current eco-design support tools, indicates a clear need for a new decision support tool for sustainable pack design using bio-polymers. 

This paper proposes a framework for an eco-design decision support tool for bio-polymer based packaging that has been developed using a predominantly qualitative research approach based on reviews, interviews and industrial packaging design experience and is an extension of previously published work. This research investigatesfurther how existing eco-design methods, such as the 'Balanced score card', can be applied within the tool and how the shortcomings associated with incorporating social and environmental aspects can be partly resolved, through a simplified set of metrics tailored specifically for bio-polymer packaging decisions. The results of this research is a framework for the development of a three tier eco-design tool for bio-polymer packaging that provides decision support at the three critical stages of the design process: stratgic fit, Feasbility assessment and concept/pack development. 

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