Sustainable Packaging: A Global Perspective with Pierre Pienaar, World Packaging Organization

In this episode of the Beyond the Shelf: Product & Packaging Podcast, Laura Foti spoke with Pierre Pienaar, a longtime veteran in the world of packaging. With a background in pharmaceuticals, Pierre shares his multi-layered understanding and concerns related to the world's understanding of packaging.

Posted on 
July 10, 2023
Laura Foti
CMO, Specright

For many of us, packaging is just a vessel to deliver a product. We rush to take the desired product out of the package without even thinking about the value of the packaging. 

But not for Pierre Pienaar, the President of the World Packaging Organization. 

After years of working in retail pharmacy and then pharmaceutical manufacturing, Pierre became concerned with a large number of packaging-related issues in the pharmaceutical world. 

When an offer arose in the newly founded packaging department at the company he was working at at the time, he took the role and never looked back. 

Today, Pierre has a Master of Science Degree (Packaging Engineering/ Technology) from Brunel University, UK, and a Master of Manufacturing and Production Degree from the University of Hertfordshire, UK. 

On top of this, he has been National President of the South African Institute of Packaging (IPSA), an honorary life member of (IPSA), and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), among many other impressive roles. 

With this being said Pierre has a passion for packaging and a goal to share this knowledge with younger generations and people around the world with the hope to improve the quality of packaging.

Below are some highlights from our conversation – you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop. 

On the lack of packaging science  

“Every human being touches packaging every single day, some more than others, and so we become a little bit blasé… Whatever we do with packaging every day makes us a so-called expert in the eyes of that beholder. When many companies then employ people that are meant to know something about packaging, and they maybe do, they might have many, many years of experience in a particular narrow aspect of packaging, but they certainly don't understand the diversity of it and the implications of how the one impacts on the other. Then, there’s the lack of understanding and knowledge of the science of packaging. Engineering and technology as well, but really, the science of it. When you come down to material constructions, for example, I see errors in my travels across the world all the time, and it's purely a lack of understanding of how, for example, laminations or flex material are made up, and how you combine them, and why do you combine some and not others, and what are you trying to achieve.”

On the absence of sustainability knowledge and education   

“If I went out into the street right now into one of the cities, any city in Australia, or any city in the world, and I stopped a hundred people, and I asked them out of the blue, ‘Tell me what your understanding is of sustainability.’ I guess I'd have about less than 5% that would be able to tell me what it was. Just the normal man or woman in the street, they don't know what sustainability is. They've heard the word, they know they should use it because it's the buzzword, but they don't actually understand what it means, and it's quite simple. I mean, it's not a difficult thing, but someone needs to teach them what it is, and it's just getting that balance in our lives in terms of the use of our natural resources, that balance so that we don't create this huge problem that we're facing at the moment.”

On the need for sustainable packaging  

“Folks that are in packaging companies, or making packaging, or designing packaging, we've got to design with the end in mind. We've got to design the packaging that is able to be recycled. That's paramount, and we can do it. We can do it right now, in the packaging of, certainly, food and pharmaceutical, nearly 70% of the product is packaging.”

On finding the packaging sweet spot 

“We need to make sure that on the one hand, we find sufficient packaging to protect the food and give the shelf life, but at the same time, we mustn't overpackage and create this extra packaging that's not required… So it's finding that balance… There's a sweet spot there, and we need to always strive for that optimum point when we are looking at and designing packaging.”

On the lack of adequate specifications  

“In the case that I've been involved in, the first thing that I ask for is, "Can I have copies of all your specifications that pertain to this case?" I'm stagnant whenever I see it. It's in the absolute minority. When I say absolute minority, probably 10% of those that I've dealt with have comprehensive packaging component specifications. So there's 90% there that are not doing the right thing. They just don't have the information, and that's what led them to run into the problems they've had, which could have been avoided.”

On using specifications to drive cost savings

“You don't know what you don't know. Companies don't realize that they don't have the information and that information will make their life easier. That may be upfront. There may be some dollars spent. Understood, understood, but it just prevents them from spending a lot more dollars later. Now, some of them may get away with it for many years, but somewhere, it's likely to come back and bite them. I understand that many companies don't have the expertise in this particular area of packaging, but the good thing is there are companies like Specright that have the software that they can use that makes it easy.”

Listen to the whole episode here and you can connect with Pierre on LinkedIn here.

To listen to more episodes of Beyond the Shelf, click here.


Laura Foti

Laura leads marketing and investor relations at Specright. Prior to Specright, she led advertising and analytics at GE Digital, GE’s Industrial Internet software business. Before that, she was a consultant at Deloitte Digital working in enterprise digital transformation, where she helped clients design and deploy eCommerce experiences, develop revenue-driving mobile apps, and reimagine their global digital marketing strategy. Laura was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising and Brand Innovators 40 Under 40 and 100 Women to Watch lists. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She resides in Newport Beach, CA.

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