California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Packaging Waste Reduction

Package Design, Optimization, and Assessment

Packaging plays a critical role in the safe and effective delivery of goods. Among its important functions, packaging must contain, preserve, and protect the product. The product must be contained and protected during transport so it is effectively delivered to consumers, thereby eliminating product waste through the distribution chain. Packaging must also communicate important product information and market the product.

This short blog post titled “Packaging’s Role in a Circular Economy” from INCPEN and AMERIPEN (European and United States packaging industry associations, respectively) summarizes some of the important environmental considerations of package design that contribute to positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes prior to the end-of-use phase.

These are critical attributes that should be taken into account as we seek to ensure that packaging placed into the market is also optimized from an end-of-use perspective – meaning that it can be effectively and efficiently collected and processed to become feedstock for new products. Careful consideration must be given during the design phase. Some examples of resources in this area:

  • Sustainability Checklist for Structural Package Designers. Prepared by PAC Packaging Consortium to provide a quick reference guide for packaging designers to make more educated decisions about packaging sustainability, including emphasizing the importance of a Circular Economy.
  • Design™ Guide for Plastics Recyclability. Prepared by the Association of Plastic Recyclers, this guide is 1) a quick reference for package designers, engineers, brand managers, and decision makers; 2) focused on the most commonly reclaimed post-consumer packaging items: PET, polyethylene, and polypropylene bottles and containers; and 3) contains key points to consider from the APR Design for Recyclability Guidelines.
  • Pac Next Decision Tree. This was developed by PAC NEXT to help packaging designers and manufacturers identify the impact of packaging materials.
  • COMPASS. The Comparative Packaging Assessment (COMPASS), developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition with support from the U.S. EPA and input from packaging industry and life cycle assessment (LCA) experts, is an online streamlined LCA tool tailored for packaging design evaluations. 
  • Guidelines for Sustainable Paper Products version 1.0. Developed collaboratively by GreenBlue and members of the Forest Products Working Group, the guidelines are meant to be a source of credible information that may be used by companies, individually and collaboratively, to inform and support sustainability strategy.

  • The Bit at the Bottom: a guide to help consumers get the last bit out. This guide provides a variety of practical suggestions on how to make it easier to extract the last bit of product, while stressing the need to ensure the packaging is exactly tailored to the product. It also contains a useful checklist.

Last updated: May 31, 2018
Packaging Waste Reduction,
Contact:, (916) 341-6449