I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard the name Ella Kissi-Debrah before. She was a 9-year-old living in southeast London near one of its busiest roads and suffered from severe asthma, which caused her numerous trips to the hospital between 2010 and 2013. Finally, in February 2013, her asthma brought on a cardiac arrest and she died.

Seven years later, on December 16, 2020, the coroner investigating her death concluded that she “died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.” Ella Kissi-Debrah is believed to be the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as the cause of death.

So, what does this have to do with packaging? On the face of it, nothing. In the immediate future, nothing. But it represents what could be the starting point of when pollution is more commonly accepted as the primary factor in a fatality instead of just a contributing factor. This change in thinking could, in turn, lead to municipalities, manufacturers and more being held accountable for the impact of their policies or processes on the environment.

Now, I’m not saying that this is going to happen right way — it might not happen at all because there’s still so much that needs to happen. But say this does occur — where does that put the packaging industry?

You can bet that if a consumer product good manufacturer can be held accountable for the environmental impact of its product, changes will happen throughout the value chain, including with the packaging. We talk about sustainability a lot, so much so that even the staff here at Flexible Packaging get a little tired of reporting on it from time to time even though sustainability is a concept we take to heart — just look at this issue. But the ramifications of ignoring packaging’s effects on the environment is already a bit of a slippery slope given its increasing consumer importance. Can you imagine what it’ll be like for the industry if that next step in accountability does get taken?

While the future may seem like a long way off, pretending it will never arrive could have severe consequences. Thankfully, it’s never too early to start reviewing the environmental impact of your products and processes with a critical eye on what might be.


Derrick Teal

(248) 786-1645