There are many millions of packaged items shipped throughout the world on a daily basis. Each and every one of these creates waste, and many conventional packing materials cannot be recycled. With the huge amount of companies transporting goods from factories to warehouses and then to retailers, as well as the huge amount of online orders placed daily, there is a hugely wasteful amount of plastics, Styrofoam, cardboard, and paper used in the process. Thankfully, sustainable packaging offers a solution to this problem.
Green packaging, also known as sustainable packaging, is the use of materials and manufacturing methods for the packaging of goods that has a low impact on both energy consumption and on the environment. Sustainable packaging is created in an environmentally aware manner, using biodegradable and recyclable materials, and is energy efficient.
What Materials are Used in Green Packaging?
By using sustainable packaging, it is possible for manufacturers and consumers to eliminate the contaminants and chemicals that destroy the water, soil, and atmosphere of our planet. This can be achieved by creating biodegradable and recyclable packaging. Green packaging also has a lower packaging content, and alternative energy sources such as bio fuels, wind, and solar energy are used in the production and transport process. Here are some of the materials used in green packaging:
- Biodegradable plastics
- Plant-based plastics
- Recycled products
- Alternative energy sources
- Post-consumer recycled polyethylene bags made from recycled waste
- Recycled molded packaging for eggs and more
The Four Main Types of Green Packaging Solutions
Looking at green packaging in general terms, there are four main types of green packaging solutions.
- Renewable resource-based packaging. Starch-derived PLA (lactic acid) is 90 percent biodegraded within nine months when placed in an industrial composting facility. PLA comes from sugar cane, potatoes, corn or other starchy foods.
- Packaging with additives. There are currently two types of additives on the packaging market – OXO and BIO additives. These are added in order to make the packaging degradable.
- Packaging optimization. Packaging reduction, while retaining product protection, is a prime area on which many companies have their focus.
- Recycled materials. Recycling materials is a familiar concept for us all, and remains a staple process within the green packaging industry.
What Materials are Not Used in Green Packaging?
The importance of green packaging to both the environment and to humans is incalculable. A huge amount of energy is needed for the production of traditional packaging like plastic bags, corrugated boxes ,and plastics.
More often than not, the energy source is fossil fuels which add millions of metric tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on an annual basis. The discarded traditional packaging eventually ends up in oceans or landfills, causing untold contamination and damage to the eco-system.
There are various non-green packaging materials. These include:
- Plastics made from polyethylene
- Multi-layered packaging
- Fossil fuel energy
- And more
Key Benefits of Green Packaging
To reduce the environmental impact of traditional packaging methods and materials, there is a wide variety of alternatives. Each of these has its own benefits.
- Ensure all paper material used in printing makes the best use of space
- Resize packaging to fit the contents. Many conventional packages are far bigger than requirements
Increase Recycled Content
- Use 100% PCW paper
- Source recycled plastic tubing
- Shred old paper sheets, and cut up waste to use as packing material
- Use thinner plastic packaging and lower weight paper
- Redesign packaging to exclude non-recyclables such as plastic lids
- Have informative recycling labels on packaging
- Ensure ingredients used in materials do not contribute to or cause environmental degradation
- Recycle all waste water
- Use green power certified materials
- Source production from alternative energy-powered or energy-efficient facilities
- Source a packing manufacturer close to the manufacturer of the product
- Only use fulfillment companies located within the primary market
Increase Use of Renewable Material
- Use agri-fiber paper rather than tree-derived
- Design packaging for reuse and tell this to the consumer
Recent Trends in Sustainable Packaging
Fast-food giant, McDonald’s, recently pledged to source 100 percent of all fiber-based packaging from recycled or certified sources by 2020. To stay current within the green packaging market, many major and smaller companies are coming up with their own interesting, and at times novel, sustainable packaging ideas, such as:
- Edible packaging. In an attempt to reduce paper and plastic waste, edible packaging has become a manufacturing talking point. However, its creation and use would be problematic due to hygiene and logistical issues.
- Downstream supply chain professionals measuring and auditing upstream suppliers. Companies are requiring and requesting more measurements, audits, and a better understanding of supply chain performance. In time, meaningful business decisions will likely be made based on the environmental preferability of upstream suppliers.
- Shrinking carbon footprints. Reductions in carbon footprints generally accompany reductions in other negative environmental issues, therefore shrinking carbon footprints is important to focus on.
- 100 percent bio-based PET. Since 2009, Coca-Cola has been producing a partially bio-based PlantBottle. In 2015, the company announced the production of the first demonstration-scale 100 percent bio-based PlantBottle in the world. It is expected that the company will make more announcements relating to the PlantBottle over the months ahead.
- Better bioplastics. It is hoped that 2016 will be the year in which the barrier, thermal, and mechanical properties of bioplastic will be improved. One issue with bioplastics is that products which are required to be heated or sterilized via heat, were unable to be packaged in this manner. However, continued innovation means that some bio-based packaging can withstand very hot temperatures. More high performance bioplastics are expected throughout 2016.
- Waste reduction. By no means a new or novel concept, waste reduction will always be a sustainable packaging trend. Recyclable packaging is both good for business and for the environment. Therefore, “zero waste” is still the most common buzz-phrase in the manufacturing industry today.
Green packaging, in addition to the uses and materials that make it sustainable, is an environmentally sound choice. It is also increasingly economically appealing for both consumers and manufacturers. In addition to this, sustainable packaging helps to ensure a cleaner environment for ourselves and our children.
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