In the past few years there has been an increased focus on plastic wastage and the many ways it is negatively impacting the planet. Here we look at some of the conventional packaging materials to see how they stack up in terms of their sustainability and discuss if there is a viable alternative that is a kinder option for the environment.
When we talk about conventional plastics, this is a reference to plastics that are produced using fossil fuels, such as polyethylene and polypropylene. While they are extremely successful at reducing microbial growth and product deterioration, the resources required to produce them, and the large amount of damage caused to the environment in the process, means their continued use is not a sustainable option.
Of course, plastic can be recycled, but it degrades in quality every time it is recycled, so it can only be used once or twice before it has to be disposed – and it can take hundreds of years for it to decompose.
While glass can be recycled, it is not a renewable material as it is produced by melting quartz sand, which is not an organic process. It is also not a biodegradable material as it can take thousands of years – even longer in a landfill – to fully decompose. Preservative-full or chemically enriched food items are typically stored in glass packaging containers as it helps to ensure the flavour, aroma and strength remain intact. However, compared to alternatives it is a more expensive option and it requires a large amount of energy to produce this type of packaging.
Corrugated packaging has been in use since the late 19th century when Albert L. Jones used it to wrap glass bottles and kerosene lamp chimneys. The material’s lightness, versatility and low cost enabled it to grow in popularity over the past 100+ years and is used by countless industries today. Cardboard can be made in almost any size, shape and colour and offers high capabilities for graphics and printing, although it is not the best option for weatherproofing.
Cardboard is recyclable and biodegradable (providing it is plain cardboard without any food waste and all tape and staples have been removed), although the manufacturing process is very energy intensive. Its contribution to deforestation also means it may not be quite as environmentally friendly as first thought.
When it comes to saving costs on packaging, there are few options better than shrink wrap which compared to cardboard can reduce expenditure anywhere between 50 and 75%. A single pallet of shrink film can package as many as 15 pallets of cardboard, helping to save space within the warehouse. Using shrink wrapping means there is no box to erect and the equipment can be used to collate products automatically on a pallet.
In terms of its green credentials, shrink wrapping also performs extremely well. Modern developments in shrink wrap technology have now advanced to the point where ‘functionally biodegradable’ shrink wrap is now available. So, while there is no film that currently meets the European standard (EN 13432) of biodegradability, there are now options that are more environmentally friendly.
Is compostable shrink wrap a worthwhile alternative?
The packaging industry has relied heavily on plastic and other forms of unsustainable packaging materials for decades, but there is an urgent need for alternatives to come to the fore due to the now widely recognised damage it causes to the environment.
Compostable shrink wrap could provide part of the answer as it can decompose under natural conditions, instead of taking hundreds of years to degrade. An example would be sugarcane polyolefin, which is a CO2 neutral material that is renewable, recyclable and sustainable.
Through the process of photosynthesis, sugarcane polyolefin captures and fixes CO2 from the atmosphere to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Once the sugarcane extraction process has finished, the waste can be repurposed for use in shrink wrapping. Sugarcane shrink wrap can contain up to 51% of sugarcane cellulose, which significantly reduces the carbon footprint compared to traditional plastic films.
None of the versatility, durability or aesthetic qualities we have become accustomed to with conventional polyolefin is lost, ensuring goods enjoy similar levels of protection. It offers a great way of offsetting some of the carbon produced when the materials are manufactured and lowers our reliance on fossil fuel-derived plastics.
Transform your product packaging
At Kempner we are always looking for ways to evolve and update our sustainable packaging solutions, utilising decades of industry experience to ensure our customers have some of the best products on the market. We offer compostable shrink wrap and a host of environmentally friendly options that could be just the change you are looking for. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.