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Speaking to a Sustainability Expert
Wed Feb 21 2024

Julie: Well, first off, I know you, and I've known you for a while, but can you tell us a little bit about your role?

Cory: Yeah, so I'm Cory Connors. I'm the Director of Sustainable Packaging Solutions at Orora Packaging, and I am also the host of Sustainable Packaging Podcast. My role is fairly unique in the industry. I spend a lot of time working with our customers to help them transition to more sustainable packaging, which is my favorite part. I truly enjoy working with people, getting to the root of their issues and what they're trying to solve—not just, “Hey, can you quote these boxes?” No, let's really talk about how we could organically look at your whole system and how you're using packaging and how we could eliminate some packaging, possibly. I know that sounds counterintuitive from a packaging company, but we want to use the least amount of packaging to successfully do the job.

Julie: That kind of leads right into my next question . . . so how do you believe that packaged products should be designed to yield sustainability benefits, either through lightweighting, through improving recycling and recyclability—what are some things that you feel like talking with your clients and your network, how can you do that better?

Cory: Yeah, I really see it as a pie, and I think the wedges on that pie continue to change as extended producer responsibility laws come to fruition—things like reusable packaging are going to be more popular and needed to accomplish the goals set forward by municipalities and states and governments—nationally and internationally. So, the answer is all of the above. And, in my opinion, we have to continuously look at—”Okay, we tried this, the LCA worked six months ago, does it still work today?” We're looking at higher post-consumer recycled content for packaging; post-industrial waste is great as well. And then how do we make that packaging so it's easy for the consumer to recycle or reuse?

Julie: So at the Packaging School, we love to stay on top of sustainability trends. It's obviously hard work, as you know. So as the sustainability director for your company, what are some driving trends that you're seeing for 2024 and moving forward?

Cory: Yeah, unfortunately, there's a lot of fear in the industry right now. People are scared about what's happening with the extended producer responsibility laws coming out. They're very nervous, so they're coming to us and saying, “Hey, how do we work within these new rules and still successfully deliver our products to our customers in packaging that will keep it secure and won't let it rot?” There's nothing sustainable about rotten food, right? So we need to look at all of those issues. But what I'm seeing on a general basis are things like a switch to mono-material, and higher PCR content—we're gonna keep hearing about that even in things like stretch film, which is a first in the industry—very exciting to see that potential. A lot of people are frustrated by pallet wrap or stretch film, but it's a very effective packaging tool. And so, if we can come up with high PCR stretch wrap and then recycle it again, that all of a sudden is a circular economy and very, very positive. 

Julie: What are your thoughts on the carbon credit / carbon offset / carbon trading world? 

Cory: Yeah, I think the answer is tread softly there. I think there's a lot of concern about the regulation there. I love the idea if it could work and if it was actually effective, but I don't want it to be a scapegoat to not follow the rules of sustainability—just “Oh, hey, we'll just pay and  somebody else will be sustainable.” No, I want it to be a supplement to aggressive action towards a more sustainable, more circular economy—reuse, recycling is so critical, composting where possible—all of these things are gonna work together. If people are just “Oh, I can just buy carbon credit, it's no big deal,” then that's a problem. That mindset, I think, is faulty. So we, as a society, if you are doing all that you can and you still need some carbon credits to kind of get to that net zero number, then that's great. And I appreciate that and am thankful for that as long as those carbon credits go towards funding something that really helps our planet.

Julie: Working at Orora, working for your own entity as Cory Connors and your podcast for sustainability, what are some industry-spanning sustainability initiatives you guys are looking at in the future for 2024 and so on? 

Connor: Yeah, I'm really excited about what Orora Packaging is doing. I can't tell you all of our secrets, but I can tell you that we've invested a lot of resources into our sustainable design lab in San Jose, California. And what we're doing is we're inviting our customers to that lab, or potential customers, to look at what they're using and then use those resources that we have all in this one building with our top designers and all the testing equipment and prototyping equipment that you could possibly need to create a new package, so the customer could leave with an actual prototype to be able to show their senior team—it's amazing.

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