Plastic packaging is currently one of the biggest problems in the world and will continue to be so if we don't do something about it.
Although sustainability may seem like a great trend with which everyone is trying to make money, it is clear that there are trends that will fade, and there are others that are here to stay. In Nattiam we think and we really hope that sustainable packaging is here to stay, and we hope that with this article we will help you join the cause.
It is alarming that the packaging generates more than 141 million tons of plastic waste each year, becoming the sector that generates more waste, almost four times the amount generated from the next sector. It is clear that something must be done.
After the publication of the blog 'Where grocery retail is headed: The year in trends', we will go one step further and we will explain what are the sustainable packaging options available for your business, which you had never thought of before.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
Sustainable packaging produces a much smaller environmental footprint than other types of packaging. This is thanks to the following characteristics that define it:
- A smaller production process.
- The supply chain is shorter, which helps limit the carbon footprint it causes.
- The product can be reused, in many cases in more ways than one.
- If you create the recyclable product, you will create a circular economy.
So, how can this be put into practice?
1. Transition From Plastic to Paper
Every single day, around eight million pieces of plastic makes its way into the ocean (discover more, here). That’s a scary thought, right? Well, there are easy ways to make your companies carbon footprint that little bit less harmful - could paper be your saviour?
- It’s much better for the environment than plastic, as it breaks down more easily.
- There are a broad range of raw materials which paper packaging can be made from.
- It is great for printing logos, pictures, and text on.
- It’s lighter, which is ideal for bulk transportation.
- The waste can be recycled without pollution.
- Not waterproof, and can disintegrate in wetter weather.
- The production process of paper and cardboard emits air and water pollution, as well as chemicals like chlorine.
- Not the best option to house heavy options.
2. Explore Biodegradable Packaging
Did you know that it takes around 500 years for a single plastic bottle to decompose! Instead, biodegradable plastics are a fantastic alternative, that help to limit the amount of solid plastic that remains within the environment.
A number of companies are making the effort to conform to this biodegradable packaging “trend”. For example, Snact worked alongside TIPA in creating a packaging for their snacks that was 100 percent compostable. That said, although it may seem like the ideal solution, in practice, it definitely needs some work:
- Won’t harm animals as much as normal plastic.
- Breaks down into almost nothing.
- Only biodegrades in certain conditions, like dry landfill, not the wet ocean.
- If the packaging is Oxo-degradable, this means it won’t completely disappear from the environment. Instead, it’ll slowly break down into much smaller microplastics, which are still harmful.
- Current biodegradable plastics aren’t recyclable.
Look Into Bioplastics, or Plant-Based Packaging
Polylactic acid (PLA) is a substitute for plastic that’s made using fermented plant starch. With single-use plastic on the out, it seems plant-based options may be the next big thing! But will it work?
- Will take a lot less time to decompose than plastics.
- Will decompose in a much safer way than plastic, leaving almost no trace.
- Has a much lower carbon footprint than plastic.
- The production process still needs refining.
- Upturn in bioplastics could create a food shortage, or price inflation.
- Could endanger natural areas, like rainforests, for crop growth.
4. Check Out Infinitely-Recyclable Plastic
Earlier this year, Berkeley Labs scientists published a report in the Nature Chemistry journal which blew us all out of the water. The report hailed the discovery of a brand new plastic, poly (diketoenamine), or PDK, which facilitates a circular economy. This means it can be recycled again and again, without changes in quality.
How is this done? Well, scientists replaced the chemical bonds used in the average plastic bottle with “reversible bonds”. So, when submerged in a solution that’s highly acidic, it dissolves into its natural form, ready to be rebuilt.
This is a massive breakthrough as, if used in mass production, would reduce the mixing of different types of plastic in recycling systems. This way, expensive recycling technology would become unnecessary, creating an economically viable system!
5. Create a Reusable Product: Be Creative!
Want to be a little more creative? There are some companies which are thinking more outside of the box, and creating packaging which, after purchased, can be morphed into something completely different!
A fantastic example of this is H&M’s cardboard shopping bag, which can be made into a coat hanger! This is a fantastic way to create a functional product, even after its original use.
6. Remove Packaging Altogether
We can reel off this list of plastic alternatives but, as you can see, there are drawbacks to almost all of them. Therefore, removing packaging altogether is the best way to make the most change.
For some initial inspiration, our blog post on the 4 Ways to go Plastic Free could be a good place to start. Otherwise, we wish you luck in your plastic-free endeavours.