Environmentally Friendly Packaging Explained
With the increase of eCommerce, the amount of waste packaging being produced is increasing. Many consumers are becoming much more waste conscious as the impact packaging has on the environment is becoming more and more obvious. That often brings up the question, what does environmentally friendly packaging actually mean?
There are many different areas which the production of packaging impacts on the environment. There is the way the raw material is initially sourced, the manufacturing methods that are used in producing the packaging, and how it impacts the environment in its waste form after it has been used.
Here we explain a few of the main aspects of environmentally friendly packaging and what you need to consider and look out for to be as eco-friendly as you can.
What is Environmentally Friendly Packaging?
Environmentally friendly packaging is packaging that has less of an impact on the environment. There are a few different types of environmentally friendly packaging, and each one has its own level of ‘kindness’ to the environment. It’s good to understand these different types because they help the environment in different ways.
Recyclable packaging is packaging made of materials that can be broken back down into its raw form to enable it to be used again. Recycling packaging means there is less waste dumped in landfill and less raw material taken from the earth. Examples of recyclable packaging are; most plastic packaging that is made from LDPE such as plastic bags, air pillows, and stretch film; and most cardboard packaging like cardboard boxes, paper voidfil, and paper wrapping materials.
Renewable Source Packaging
Renewable source packaging is packaging that has been made from renewable sources. These sources can be easily replenished so we aren’t using the earth’s resources like oil that have taken thousands of years to produce. The main renewable source packaging is paper and cardboard but also some plastics are manufactured from plant starch so come from a renewable source.
Reusable packaging and multi-use packaging is great because it can be reused for several different things before it is thrown away. This means that instead of using multiple different bags or boxes, and throwing them away, you only use one and use it multiple times. High quality bags such as bags for life are examples of these as instead of using disposable bags the shopper uses the same bag a lot of times.
Bio-degradable packaging is packaging that breaks down into a compostable substance. This means that the packaging puts goodness back into the earth in a useful way rather than staying as useless waste for hundreds of years. Cardboard and paper are naturally bio-degradable but to make plastics bio-degrade there needs to be a special additive mixed in during manufacture which helps the micro-organisms break it down much faster than standard plastics.
There have been many news reports and images on the impact waste packaging has on the environment. Reports on mountains of waste that takes years to degrade and plastics clogging up the oceans. On the other hand, there are considerations such as where the raw material is sourced from, the pollution from processing and manufacturing plants during manufacture, and the pollution from transport getting the packaging to your door. Although plastic is a massive polluter at the end of its life, in actual fact it is the lowest polluter during the manufacturing stage of its life. So leading to the thinking that if we responsibly recycle the plastic at the end of its life it would be more environmentally friendly than most other forms of packaging.
Is cardboard environmentally friendly?
Paper and cardboard which is often deemed one of the most environmentally friendly packaging materials actually causes a lot of unseen damage in the manufacturing stages of it’s life if not manufactured responsibly. The raw material can be cut from original forests without proper planning and completely ruin natural habitats and lay waste hundreds of acres of ground. Added to that, paper processing plants are some of the worst polluters, billowing out fumes into the atmosphere and polluting watercourses with chemicals. Be warned when using imported products as they may be manufactured using unscrupulous processing methods.
Types of Recyclable Packaging
Recyclable packaging is packaging that is easily recycled back into useful material that can be used again and again to make new products. Recyclable packaging needs to be considered carefully because not all materials, even if they are very similar, can be recycled. Let’s take plastic for instance. There are many different types of plastic that are used in packaging, we have LDPE, PET, PP, HDPE, MDPE, EPS, EPE, to name a few. However only one of these plastic types are readily recycled by most recycling plants which is LDPE. Some recycling plants will recycle other plastics such as PET and PP but it still is limited.
If you are looking to source recyclable packaging try and opt for paper or cardboard packaging (keeping in mind that plastic laminated cardboard is a no-no for recycling, this has a thin sheet of plastic glued to it which can’t be separated very easily). If you need plastic packaging look for packaging manufactured from LDPE as this is the most widely recycled plastic type.
Types of Packaging from Renewable Sources
Packaging from renewable sources are made from products like paper, cardboard, and starch-based plastics (which are made from plants such as corn). These sources can be easily and quickly regrown so we are not using resources that the earth has taken millions of years to produce. When you are buying paper or cardboard make sure your supplier has used materials which have come from FSC certified forests. This means that the cardboard or paper you are buying has been grown responsibly in a controlled manner and not produced by decimating original forests and ruining acres of wildlife habitats.
If you are buying plastic packaging you can choose plastic manufactured from starch and plant oils which is far more environmentally friendly than using normal plastics. Be prepared to pay more for these plastics though, you can pay up to 10 times more for plant-based plastics in comparison to normal plastics, although with higher volume pricing it does become much more comparable.
Types of Reusable Packaging
Reusable packaging is generally manufactured from stronger and more durable materials that are able to be used multiple times. Shoe boxes are a great example of this, rather than a cheap cardboard box that gets thrown away, many shoe boxes get kept for years as a useful storage box. But you don’t need to go as far as that. Even just a box or bag with a resealable glue strip on it that can be used twice before being thrown away. If everyone used their packaging twice there would be half the amount of packaging used!
The secret here is, when you are buying packaging, look for a better-quality version that not only looks more impressive to your customers but enables your customers to reuse it again rather than it being so battered after just one trip that it has to go in the bin.
Types of Bio-Degradable Packaging
Bio-Degradable packaging is packaging that breaks down quickly into a compostable material so it doesn’t stick around as waste for hundreds of years before breaking down. The main culprit here is plastic as this is renown for hanging around for many years before it even thinks about breaking down. There are two types of ‘degradable’ plastic and it’s important to know the difference because one is a lot kinder to the environment than the other. The difference is the ‘Bio’ bit. A lot of plastics are ‘degradable’ but that just means it breaks up, this is generally because of UV rays which cause the plastic to become brittle and it then breaks up into smaller pieces. You can get specially formulated plastic which ‘degrades’ even out of UV rays so this is better because it breaks up even if it’s in a rubbish dump. However, you want to look out for Bio-degradable plastic as this actually breaks down to a compostable substance, you can even put this in your compost bin!
Cardboard and paper are naturally biodegradable as they are manufactured from trees, generally most packaging materials made from plants and trees are biodegradable. But be careful if they are laminated with a plastic sheet as this will not be biodegradable unless a special biodegradable plastic has been used. When buying plastic packaging, ask your supplier for Biodegradable plastic which breaks down into a compostable material, don’t settle for just ‘degradable’.