The growing conversation about sustainable packaging has been changing the way consumer packaging is done. This awakened awareness is beneficial especially now that online shopping plastic packaging waste is bigger than ever with the advent of online shopping. The good news is, there are several sustainable packaging alternatives on the market today that businesses and consumers can use to reduce packaging waste. Here's a comprehensive guide in switching to sustainable packaging.
Rethinking Product Packaging
The old, single-use plastic packaging is slowly being replaced with new sustainable packaging material as more and more companies lean towards sustainable practices. This can be attributed to the empowering conversation about sustainability and how we as business owners can be more conscientious of our environmental impact in our supply chain. In fact, McDonald's, the fast-food giant, announced its goal to design out waste by 2025 through the use of packaging material that's renewable, recycled, or from certified sources. According to Mcdonald's official website, "designing out waste, improving the sustainability of our packaging and ultimately moving toward a circular economy are top priorities for our business." This sends an important message not only to other quick-service restaurants but to all business owners. This shows us that it's not too late to rethink our value chain, product packaging, and other areas of our business that has an environmental impact especially that there is another way to do business such as looking at other eco-friendly packaging options. Which brings us to the question, what is sustainable packaging?
Sustainable Packaging: The Basics
Sustainable Packaging is an earth-friendly alternative packaging solution that has been sourced and developed using sustainable materials to reduce carbon footprint and total adverse environmental impact.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), a project of GreenBlue, offers criteria for sustainable packaging. Namely:
Is beneficial, safe & healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
Meets market criteria for performance and cost
Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
Is made from materials healthy throughout the life cycle
Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy
Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles
Recycling is not enough.
As stated in GAIA/Zero Waste Europe's recent studies, recycling is not enough to curb plastic waste. In fact, only 9% of all plastic ever discarded since 1950 has been recycled, and the rest became pollution in landfills, dumpsites, incinerator emissions, or oceans, where it will remain for millennia. The only way to solve the world's plastic pollution crisis is to simply make less plastic and transition to a sustainable packaging solution.
An understanding of Flexible Packaging
To understand sustainable packaging and how it works, we must first delve into flexible packaging. Flexible packaging is any package or any part of a package whose shape can be readily changed. Examples of these are bags, pouches, sleeves, carded packaging, etc. They are made of chemical compounds that serve as microscopic building blocks of plastic packaging materials called Polymers.
There are two kinds of Polymers - one is synthetic while the other can be found in nature. The conventional synthetic polymers commonly used today are polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE), and polyolefin (POF).
Due to the growing plastic problem, an alternative to synthetic polymers was produced. These are called biopolymers. Biopolymers are made from organic and plant-based materials that create biodegradable plastic or bioplastics. Unlike plastic that takes 400 or more years to break down, bioplastic can break down into the environment in a period of time.
According to Sciencedirect.com,
"Bioplastics are made wholly or in part from renewable biomass sources such as sugarcane and corn, or from microbe such as yeast. Some bioplastics are biodegradable or even compostable under the right conditions. Bioplastics made from renewable resources can be naturally recycled by biological processes, thus limiting the use of fossil fuels and protecting the environment.
Therefore, bioplastics are sustainable, largely biodegradable, and biocompatible. Today, bioplastics have become a necessity in many industrial applications such as food packaging, agriculture and horticulture, composting bags, and hygiene.
Bioplastics have also found their use in biomedical, structural, electrical, and other consumer products. With increasing demand for global plastic consumption, a lot of research is being dedicated toward exploring green materials and new ways to process them."
Frequently used biopolymers are poly(lactic acid) (PLA) and poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT) that decompose into the earth faster than traditional plastic. These are the common building blocks of sustainable packaging.
Sustainable Packaging Examples
Now that we understand how sustainable packaging works, we can now discuss the different sustainable packaging solutions available in the market today. However, your sustainable packaging strategy will greatly depend on your sustainability goals. It helps to apply the Life Cycle Analysis in making these sustainability-related decisions. To help you identify which product packaging or packaging design to use, here are four examples of sustainable packaging:
Recyclable packaging is a form of packaging made from recyclable materials such as glass, metal, and corrugated cardboard - the most common form of recyclable packaging. Glass and metal are examples of reusable packaging that can be washed and reused multiple times but is not ideal for shipping since shipping rates are based on weight. Cardboard or paperboard, on the other hand, is lightweight and can be easily cut and formed which is ideal for shipping. Since it is made from used paper pulp, it also breaks down faster than glass and metal.
In the journal, Biodegradable Packaging - An Eco-Friendly Approach published by Current Agriculture Research Journal, the term biodegradable refers to those materials that could be easily decomposed by the enzymatic action of the microbes within a short period of time. They do not need human intervention to break down since it will it degrade back into their simple components.
With this in mind, biodegradable packaging is simply packaging that can degrade into the environment since it is made from eco-friendly materials, commonly known as biopolymers. However, we must be wary of those biodegradable packaging that has an "oxo-biodegradable" label on them. According to our article about the difference between biodegradable and compostable, "They are made from transition metals such as cobalt, manganese, iron, etc., and additives such as Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), and sometimes also Polyvinylchloride (PVC). " They do not break down into the environment as it naturally should but instead, leave microplastics that cause further pollution.
Paper-based packaging is a form of packaging made from paper. This type of packaging is quite popular due to its versatility, lightweight, and highly customizable material. It is also a cost-efficient method to transport, protect, and preserve the product. Examples of paper packaging are paper bags, paper shipping sacks, paper board, and corrugated cardboard as discussed earlier. Paper bags are commonly used as a sustainable alternative to plastic grocery bags while corrugated cardboard is thick, paper-based material that is used to ship bigger more fragile, products or as storage boxes. However, paper packaging is more fragile than other sustainable packaging materials due to its nature. For instance, once paper packaging becomes wet, it immediately breaks down. It can also tear easily once it sticks to sharp objects. It is best suited for quick shipping and dry, soft items.
In our recent article, What is Compostable Packaging and Why is it important?, compostable packaging is a type of packaging which uses sustainable and eco-friendly materials that can compost in an industrial composting facility or at the comfort of a home compost bin. This kind of packaging, function the same as traditional plastic packaging but do not leave toxic waste. The difference with compostable packaging is that it can be beneficial to the soil once composted. It is typically made from a combination of corn starch and PBAT (polybutylene adipatecoterephthalate) as its main components. PBAT creates a tough but flexible material that allows the packaging to compost and biodegrades faster into natural, non-toxic elements called humus or "black gold" that nourish the soil.
minliving™ produces certified compostable mailers that are 100% home compostable which you can conveniently compost at home or give to the nearest composting site. Our compostable mailers are available in Small (6"x9") and Medium (10"x13") sizes that can cater to specific product needs. From handmade pieces of jewelry to clothing - minliving™ has got you covered! Each compostable mailer bag is designed with two adhesive strips so that it can be reused for future use. minliving compostable mailers are durable, water-resistant, reusable, and 100% home compostable.
Whether you are an eco-friendly business optimizing sustainable business practices or a business transitioning to environmentally friendly packaging, researching and reading this article is a great start! Choosing the right packaging option for your business will greatly depend on your sustainable packaging strategy. The great news is, we are at a time when the packaging industry is evolving and adhering more to earth-friendly packaging.