Sustainable Packaging: the Trend to Follow in 2023
What is sustainable packaging?
Sustainable packaging is the packaging that is used to wrap or protect a product and that is made with an ecological material, that is, renewable, recyclable and reusable. On the other hand, compostable packaging is also gaining strength. These are containers containing food-related products that decompose in the soil as benign organic compost for the environment. As we can see, sustainable packaging has become very important in recent years and this is just the beginning, as it will be on everyone’s lips during this decade. It is the revolution of ecological packaging.
Spain’s coalition government is drawing up a Royal Decree that will establish that fruits and vegetables will have to be sold without plastic packaging in all retail businesses from the year 2023. With this measure, the objective is to reduce the pollution caused by plastics while promoting bulk purchasing to a greater extent.
What is the problem with plastic packaging?
In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on the importance of sustainable packaging, but are plastic packaging really a problem or is it a conspiracy of the bio and ecological industry lobby? Here are some facts:
- The tides of garbage are an observable fact that reaches the beaches on the coasts of Africa and Asia, but also of the rest of the continents. Every day tons of plastic packaging travel through the ocean and pile up in natural places that were previously paradisiacal, threatening the life of the marine environment and endangered species. In this Ethical article you can see a world map of marine litter.
- Most plastic packaging uses polyethylene, which in low density causes these containers to take 150 years to degrade and in high density, such as plastic bottles 500 years. However, when these packages are buried they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, according to the Aquae Foundation.
- Microplastics, fragments smaller than 5 mm that can come from the breakage of large pieces such as macroplastics have enormous economic and social impacts, as explained by Greenpeace.
- Every year, the seas and oceans can receive up to 12 million tons of garbage.
- For every kilogram of plastic that is manufactured, about 3.5 kg of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, this is greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, according to the report of the International Center for Environmental Law.
All these problems generated by unsustainable packaging give us an idea of why ecological packaging will be so important in the future. “We are drowning in our own garbage” say the environmental associations, and the time has come to clean up our house before it is too late.
What is sustainable packaging made of?
Humanity must control the use of plastics in order to save itself.
Sustainable packaging is made from materials that have been recycled such as HDPE or PET plastic or cardboard packaging. Once the materials have been properly separated for recycling, they can be chopped, converted into pulp or merged to be able to recreate new raw material to manufacture other products. The difficulty lies precisely in plastics, since while cardboard can retain the quality of its properties, while polyethylene bags or bottles can be recycled a reduced number of times before having to definitely send them to landfill.
What is compostable packaging?
One of the sustainable materials that is having the most success is the so-called PLA (starch), a substance that is compostable in its industrial form, as well as other materials that are created from cellulose, but also from organic and vegetable materials. These compostable containers are used for packaging that performs the same use as plastic packaging, being able to be used to pack food and other fragile products, as well as to create cutlery and other utensils that are usually disposable.
Thanks to the latest advances in technology, the films of these containers have a performance and properties very similar to that of standard plastic, since as a result of their organic components, you can be sure that they will degrade in the compost in a beneficial way. Thanks to the respect for the environment and its unparalleled performance, compostable containers have become the stars of sustainable packaging.
The climate emergency is already here
Plastic containers not only pollute the oceans and fill the world with mountains of landfills, but they are also the cause of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The committee of experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICCP) states that if current pollution levels are not reduced by 2030, the Earth’s temperature will rise by more than 3.4 Cº by the end of the century, which will mean death and misery for millions of people and the disappearance of many living beings.
Composting versus recycling. Which is the best option?
While 89% of consumers are concerned about packaging waste, 78% believe that compostable packaging is the best solution for plastic waste and 79% believe that compostable packaging should be encouraged over recycling. However, in 2021 alone, the volume of flexible packaging used worldwide reached 31.5 million tons while in 2018, it was estimated that only 23% of the total plastic films were sent for recycling. In this way we can conclude that the vast majority of food packaging tends to become garbage.
As a result of the increase in e-commerce worldwide, the situation with regard to unsustainable packaging has become even more difficult, making it more important than ever to end the problem of packaging waste.
That is why there is currently a debate between composting and recycling and about which of both formats will end up being imposed in the future. In favor of compostable containers is the fact that being formed of biodegradable material they have a programmed end of life that will end up in compost containers to transform into a nutrient-rich soil to return to the planet. In addition, compostable packaging can also serve as a transport of organic waste.
How will sustainable packaging continue to grow?
In this sense, explain from companies producing this type of packaging, the advantages over recycling in terms of food packaging are clear and resounding. But what about all the products that are being made today from plastic and other materials? In this sense, recycling and the motto of “the three Rs” are indispensable. However, among the disadvantages of recycling is that it does not really work with plastic, as it has properties that cause it to lose quality in the process.
On the other hand, recycling is a time-consuming process that, in addition to consuming labor, also consumes energy. A large infrastructure is needed for the recycling industry, in which trucks and machinery that consume electricity and fuel are used. In addition, these recycled containers cannot be in contact with food, so they must sometimes be mixed with new materials, which is a counterproductive process.
That is why everything points to the fact that the sustainable packaging of the future will be compostable and biodegradable, and at the same time with properties that make them just as useful as plastic packaging. And while this change is taking place, initiatives such as those put on the table by the coalition Government of Spain to ban plastic packaging of fruits and vegetables will undoubtedly be those that will force the industry and consumers to make the ecological transition. In this way, we will be able to give those who come after a world equal to or better than the one they have given to us.