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Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Daniel Gemperline, Project Specialist, Ring Container Technologies

Big Impact, Little Footprint: Packaging Industry Sustainability Careers

Daniel Gemperline, Project Specialist, Ring Container Technologies

Daniel GemperlineCan you describe your role and how you feel it links to issues around sustainable packaging? 

The role of the manufacturing engineering impacts sustainable packaging in several ways.  By making sure our facilities run effectively and efficiently we reduce any negative impact we may have on the surrounding area where our manufacturing facilities are located.

  • Ensuring the equipment we purchase, and install is suited for the specific application.
  • Ensure the equipment that is installed is state of the art and uses energy efficient components and technologies.
  • Providing production line layouts that provide ease of access for maintenance and operations.
  • Provide feedback and recommendations to our product development team during the transition from concept to commercial production.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

A typical day in engineering can be very different each day.  Below are some of the areas where my team has input and responsibility.

  • New equipment and commissioning
  • Continuous improvement
  • Assisting both the production and maintenance departments in the facility

Can you share with a little about your career trajectory and what led you towards this role and an interest in sustainability? 

My interest in plastics and packaging began in college.  I was attending a small community college and planned to transfer to a larger university in the future.  I was undecided in my major for the 1st two years of furthering my education.  The college I was attending had a Plastics /Chemical Engineering option for an associate degree.  The idea of design and manufacturing plastic containers appealed to me after I spoke with professors and a tour of the facilities.

What skills do you think are most important for a role in sustainable packaging issues?

Critical thinking, solid mechanical and electrical knowledge, the drive to challenge tried-and-true methods and concepts, and the drive to implement change for the better.

As an industry, where do you think packaging is making strides on sustainability and where do we still struggle?

I believe we have made tremendous strides in packaging design and automation since I began my career in the packaging industry some 30 years ago.

  • The industry has constantly redesigned packaging to perform at a higher level all while using less raw materials.
  • Production equipment continues to evolve and utilize the latest technologies.  This in turn reduces the energy required to produce packaging such as plastic containers.
  • Manufacturers of packaging have and continue to invest in new technologies and methods to reduce the impact our industry has on the environment.  Some of these technologies are groundbreaking and have potential to change the industry.  However, the costs associated to implement these changes can be staggering.  In some cases, these technologies may be stifled due to the financial impact.
  • I believe we struggle as a society in our mindset of recycling. The United States specifically has a single use and throw away mentality that must be challenged if we are to continuing moving forward.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing packaging sustainability right now? 

One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is the lack of infrastructure to make recycling easy and successful. Currently the cost to produce products with recycled content is less cost effective than making something from completely new raw materials.  This in turn causes the cost of packaging to increase and ultimately these costs are passed along to the consumer.

What is one common perception around packaging that you believe challenges the notion that packaging can be a tool for sustainability? 

In my opinion the media currently portrays the packaging industry as something evil.  The numerous commercials of plastic bottles floating in the ocean is a black eye on packaging.  The mentality of the masses pointing the finger and blaming others is a problem for our industry. Rather than spending money and efforts to condemn, imagine what it would be like if we utilized those resources on solving problems.

If you had one piece of advice for young professionals interested in sustainability, why should they consider the packaging industry? Your specific role? 

My advice to a young professional is this.  Our industry needs individuals who are willing to challenge the past and current paradigms we face.  If you want to make a difference in our world the packaging industry has a place for people who are passionate about change for the better. My employer “Ring Container Technologies” continues to invest in people and technologies that have and will continue to change packaging for the better.  So be informed about the company and people you entertain when beginning your new career. Choose a company that supports your ideas about sustainability.

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