Environmental Packaging Solutions
In recent years, important environmental issues such as climate change and plastic in our oceans have - rightfully - been brought to the forefront of public, media and political attention across the world. With this increase in awareness, however, has unfortunately come a wave of misinformation that threatens not only to colour public opinion but to pressure well-meaning businesses into making changes that are not only unsustainable but which will ultimately result in a negative impact on the environment.
The quickly-changing views of more environmentally-aware consumers and the changing legislation on the horizon undoubtedly present their challenges, however they also present the opportunity to become industry leaders in sustainable environmental change, not through knee-jerk reactions but tailoring the most appropriate packaging for your product.
Plastic in our Oceans
It is a sad and irrefutable fact that the amount of plastic in our oceans - the result of decades of mass production and lacklustre recycling - is an environmental crisis. Less widely-known, however, is that rPET is not only 100% recyclable, but is also made of 100% recycled materials. This means that not only can rPET reduce the amount of plastic that ends-up in our environment, but it can also reduce the amount of virgin plastic introduced to the market.
Packaging and Climate Change
Sadly, we face environmental issues other than plastic in our oceans as greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions continue to detriment our atmosphere. This is important because plastic is far more energy efficient and has a lower carbon footprint to manufacture than non-plastic alternatives. To put this in perspective, it takes "more than four times the amount of energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does a plastic bag" (Bell and Cave 2011).
The perhaps counter-intuitive environmental benefits of plastic don't stop there. Plastic is not only durable and energy efficient to manufacture but it is also incredibly light, which means fewer cars, fuel and CO2 emissions resulting from transportation.
“30,000 jute or cotton bags can be packed into a 20-foot container, but the same container will accommodate 2.5 million plastic carrier bags... 80x more ships and trucks would be required than for thin plastic bags, using 80x more fuel, using 80x more road space and emitting 80x more CO2.” The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association
This means that some companies are increasing their carbon footprints by moving away from plastic packaging, which is not only unsustainable but may also lead to accusations of 'greenwashing' - something that is likely to carry significantly greater legal clout in the future.
Packaging and Food Waste
It should go without saying that plastic is, currently, an irreplaceable resource when it comes to food packaging. Not only can plastic preserve the shelf-life of food products long enough for them to be transported to supermarkets across the world, but plastic can also be recycled even after coming into contact with food - something which cardboard cannot.
When food waste decomposes, it releases leachate into the ground and the powerful greenhouse gas methane into the air. To put this in perspective, if ranked among nation food waste would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions after only the USA and China.
Cardboard packaging, unfortunately, undergoes the same decomposition process as food waste, and when left in land-fills releases more methane into the atmosphere. In fact "paper bags generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollution than plastic.
These greenhouse gas emissions are being worsened by well-meaning companies being pressured into moving away from plastic even when it is detrimental for the environment to do so. In 2015 Riverford Organics, one of the UK's largest (and greenest) fresh goods delivery services, explained that
"85% of our packaging footprint is made up of paper and cardboard, yet our customers are happy with this packaging; virtually all negative comments on packaging relate to punnets and bags which contribute only 8% of the footprint".
It is not only businesses being pressured into knee-jerk reactions and unsustainable change, however. Anti-plastic legislation is also beginning to show its unintended consequences. The tax on "single-use" bags - so-called despite some 70% of households reusing them - seems to have increased sales of bin-liners (which require more crude oil and energy to produce) by some 400%.
If the reduction in plastic bag consumption is offset by considerable increase in bin-liner sales, which need more energy and crude oil to produce, then the environmental impact should already be questionale" Wirtz 2018
More ironic still is the fact that the 'bags-for-life' - which require more energy to produce and often tens of repeated uses to see an environmental benefit - are actually used by consumers as a bag-for-a-week. Sales in 2018 reveal that 1.5bn bags-for-life were sold in the UK, an average of 54 per household, increasing the amount of plastic used by supermarkets on the previous year by 900,000 tons.
So, what's the answer?
The fact of the matter is that there is no magical material that will solve all our packaging and our environmental problems, however both plastic and cardboard are fantastic resources that, when used properly, can actually help to have a positive impact on the environment.
Plastic has a low carbon footprint and is unparalleled in preserving shelf-life but is detrimental to nature due to its persistence in the environment - although much of this is negated by the use of rPET. Cardboard, on the other hand, is made of renewable and sustainable timber and is widely recycled all across the world, however it has a higher carbon footprint than plastic and it can't be recycled after coming into contact with food.
By working with a variety of eco-friendly paper presses and environmentally responsible rPET manufacturers, MG Packaging can tailor your product packaging to minimise your costs and your environmental footprint while maximising your market impact, promoting your brand identity and and ensuring quality, innovation and eco-friendliness in your packaging.
BBC News, (2019), Plastic waste rises as 1.5bn ‘bags for life’ sold, research finds, (Online), Available:https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50579077
Thornton, T. (2018), Plastic bag ban: Here’s how many times you actually need to reuse your shopping bags, The Conversation, (Online), Available: https://www.smartcompany.com.au/industries/retail/plastic-bag-ban-how-many-times-need-reuse-shopping-bags/
Taylor, R.L. and Villas-Boas, S.B. (2016) Bans vs Fees: Disposable Carryout Bag Policies and Bag Usage, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Vol 38. Issue 2, pp 351-372
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency (2018), Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags, Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, (Online), Available: https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-73-4.pdf
Edgington, T (2019), Plastic or paper: Which bag is greener?, BBC Reality Check, (Online), Available:https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47027792
Edwards, C. and Fry J.M, (2011), Evidence: Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006, The Environmental Agency, (Online),
Bell, K and Cave, S. (2011), Comparison of Environmental Impact of Plastic, Paper and Cloth Bags, Northern Ireland Assembly (Online) Available:http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2011/environment/3611.pdf
Richie, H. (2020) Food Waste is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Our World in Data, (Online), Available: https://ourworldindata.org/food-waste-emissions
Schwartz, E (2020) Why Plastic Bag Bans Could Backfire, Enconlife, (Online), Available:https://econlife.com/2020/04/pandemic-problems-with-plastic-bag-bans/
Williams, L. (2019), ‘Bags for Life’ exacerbating the plastic problem, Discover Wildlife, (Online), Available:https://www.discoverwildlife.com/news/bags-for-life-exacerbating-the-plastic-problem/
Lord Dick Taverne in Lerner, I. (2008) Plastic industry joins forces to battle grocery bag bans, Independent Commodity Intelligence Services, (Online), Available:https://www.icis.com/explore/resources/news/2008/03/31/9111411/plastics-industry-joins-forces-to-battle-grocery-bag-bans/
Wirtz, B. (2018) Plastic bag taxes are good intentions but bad economics, European Scientist, (online), Available:https://www.europeanscientist.com/en/features/plastic-bag-taxes-are-good-intentions-but-bad-economics/