Cardboard packaging interior

Sustainable packaging covers any materials or packing processes which attempt to prevent the increase of waste products destined for landfill sites. Sustainability involves the use of eco friendly materials used in recyclable packaging or biodegradable packaging which will break down and return to nature once no longer required.

Businesses of all kinds and sizes – Coca-Cola, Unilever, McDonalds and Danone among them – are committing to sustainability targets, and not just as a ‘greenwashing’ public relations exercise. 

There is now a realisation that in spite of short-term increases in costs, a commitment to greener working can be a way of building sustainable profits.

The UK government has also made substantial commitments to the environment, targeting a range of issues including air pollution, clean water, waste, harmful chemicals and biosecurity. 

 

SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING IN THE NEWS

Eco friendly packaging is a front-of-mind topic for companies operating in all sectors. Growing public concern has recently been ramped up by the scenarios shown in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet TV series, as well as by a timely realisation by businesses and politicians that, if nothing changes, packaging will cause irreversible environmental damage.

An estimated 80 million tonnes of plastic packaging are produced annually. That’s around 10 kilos of plastic for every person on the planet, every year. If left unchecked the figure will triple by 2050 (source: Talking Retail). Forbes.mag reports that there were 3.4 trillion units of packaging produced in 2016, 92% of it for food and drink.

Environmentally friendly packaging is agreed as a top priority by virtually everyone – the way we package goods of all kinds has to change. Leaving aside the Attenborough effect, the issue has come closer to home with China and other nations in the Far East now refusing to accept plastics for low-cost recycling. The opportunities to shift the burden of environmental responsibility elsewhere are reducing. 

 

WHAT PACKAGING IS SUSTAINABLE?

cardboard packaging with paper tape

When looking for sustainable packaging solutions, it is important to consider the entire life cycle of a product. This includes how its materials are sourced, how long it takes to manufacture and package goods, and what happens to the packaging when it enters the waste stream. 

 Sustainable packaging often utilises renewable resources such as plant-based plastics, cardboard or paperboard made from sustainable forestry operations or post-consumer waste, compostable or biodegradable packaging materials and renewable energy sources where possible. It should also be designed for reusability and recycled into new products whenever possible. By thinking holistically about sustainable packaging solutions, companies can make eco-friendly decisions that help keep our planet healthy for generations to come.

One of the biggest initiatives in sustainable packaging is to swap single use plastic (SUP) for:

  • Paper 
  • Cardboard
  • Reuseable plastic
  • Biodegradable plastic and bio plastic made partly from plant products

There are also refinements in approach which can have a positive impact:

  • Simply reducing the amount of packaging
  • Packing and wrapping with a close fit to the product to minimise the amount of material used snugly
  • Increasing the fill rate in cartons and other containers 
  • Using monomaterials instead of laminates

A few examples of successful approaches are:

  • Newspaper egg cartons
  • Lightweight card snack boxes
  • Reusable coffee cups
  • Slim cardboard sleeves for t-shirts
  • Ground coffee and beans in paper bags
  • Bubble-wrap made from recycled polythene

There is also the huge importance of innovation and experimentation – of thinking (literally) outside the box.

 

WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING?

recycle logo on a bin

As consumer demand for sustainability continues to grow, innovative future solutions are being developed to make sustainable packaging more attractive and cost efficient. With climate change affecting the future of many industries, the future for sustainable packaging will undoubtedly be a priority. 

Companies are exploring replacement methods that don’t rely on non-renewable resources as packing materials, such as biodegradable or plant-based materials that use fewer resources and can easily be disposed of or recycled in an environmentally friendly way. 

As these solutions become available, costs associated with production will come down and companies will eventually offset environmental impacts by implementing alternative strategies stressing reuse, reduce, and recycle. Ultimately, future developments serve as a reminder of our responsibility to minimise plastic waste where possible in order to protect our planet for future generations.

 

SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING MACHINES

Sustainable packaging machines are becoming increasingly popular in many industries. They provide a sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional non-recyclable materials commonly used to manufacture and transport products. With sustainable packaging machines, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint by reusing plastic and cardboard that were previously considered waste, allowing them to reap the economic benefits of reducing their reliance on single-use materials while also doing their part to help protect the planet. 

Additionally, sustainable packaging solutions offer greater efficiency and flexibility than traditional methods with significantly less damage or risk of contamination during transit, making them a more cost-effective choice for many operations. By investing in sustainable packaging machines, companies of all sizes can add another layer of sustainability to their operations while also saving money in the long run.

Energy-efficient packaging machines are an important element of the sustainable packaging movement. As companies strive to reduce their environmental impact, investing in efficient machines that require little electricity or water can make all the difference. Additionally, renewable power sources and toxic substance free processes should be utilised whenever possible for optimal results.

 

SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING MATERIALS

Sustainable packaging materials offer equal, if not improved levels of protection and convenience than conventional options while reducing the environmental impacts associated with their production and disposal. In addition to biodegradable or compostable solutions, there are other green alternatives available such as recycling, reuse and flexible packaging that can all contribute to achieving a more sustainable future for our planet.

Sustainable packaging materials are the solutions to our needs for sustainable product packaging. They represent an important element of sustainable production, as they are designed to reduce environmental impact, enhance product safety and prevent food waste. 

Some examples of sustainable packaging materials include bamboo, sugarcane paper and biopolymers made from renewable plant resources. Each of these sustainable options offers various benefits, such as reduced energy consumption in manufacturing, higher recyclability rates and lower emissions of pollutants into the environment. It is clear that sustainable packaging materials are the way forward to meet our need for sustainable product packaging solutions.

 

BIODEGRADABLE AND COMPOSTABLE PACKAGING

With consumer interest in organic foods and farming riding high, some companies are now going the extra mile and offering these foods in more environment-friendly packaging. Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer, for example, have decided to start selling some of their fresh organic produce and a selection of ready meals in maize-based compostable packaging in the future. 

Biodegradable coffee cups have also been trialled by major players on the High Street.

Many companies in the food packaging industry are now switching on to the idea of biodegradable materials and even compostable packaging. Biodegradable packaging is required to break down when disposed of, but there is no stipulation as to the amount time in which this must happen. Compostable packaging on the other hand, must disintegrate into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil within ninety days.

 

REUSED PACKAGING AND THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY

At the heart of the sustainability debate is the circular economy. In its purest form, in packaging terms, it means returning packaging for it to be reused for its original purpose. 

In January 2019 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Loop shopping was unveiled. With the participation of major players such as Nestlé, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble, the Loop initiative utilises sturdy, refillable packaging that can be used many times over. The approach is making headway in cosmetics, personal care, food and retail. The idea of reusing packaging not so new – think back to milkmen picking up empty bottles to be cleaned and reused. But its time has certainly come again. 

Major supermarkets are also trialling refillables and plastic-free aisles, and zero-waste stores like The Clean Kilo in the UK and Precycle in New York have come into being. Individual consumers are making lifestyle choices about how they shop without endangering the future of the planet. As one Precycle customer puts it, “Just having very little trash feels really good.”    

 

FLEXIBLE PACKAGING

Flexible packaging utilises bags and pouches, or any other non-rigid packaging structures. By combining the best qualities of paper, aluminium, plastic and film, flexible packaging uses fewer raw materials while still providing reliable protection for food products. Flexible packaging is a particularly effective means of extending shelf life. Not only does it provide effective packaging at point of sale but also provides customers with a convenient resealable package to use later, removing the need for other containers or disposable bags to preserve the remaining food.

Flexible packaging offers a variety of packaging options to suit all varieties of products and even brings the added advantage of being extremely easy to print on it and enhance company branding.

Though not necessarily biodegradable, flexible packaging contributes to the reduction of waste destined to find its way to landfill sites due to its non-rigid and therefore easily foldable structure. Lighter weight packaging requires less energy to transport and deliver, saving both money and reducing the carbon footprint of the vehicles required to transport it.

Thanks to advances and innovations in food packaging, flexible packaging now requires fewer resources. Modern techniques mean flexible packaging solutions require less water and energy to produce, and the process also produces less greenhouse gas 

emissions and volatile organic compounds.

 

DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABILITY

Successful eco-design uses environmentally friendly materials applied to present day and future problems. For sustainable packaging that means a focus on sourcing and recovery of materials, as well as designing for solutions which can be used at a significant commercial scale. 

New award-winning ideas include:

  • protective sleeves for fragile products made from recycled paper in an expandable honeycomb design to replace plastic bubble wrap 
  • protective foam made from paper and plant starch which also provide thermal insulation
  • compostable packaging foam made from seafood shells and waste from paper recycling, an alternative to expanded polystyrene
  • reusable delivery packaging made from recycled PET bottles   
  • compostable packaging which uses mushrooms to bind wood chip

The drive for sustainability now runs through all parts of the commercial world which uses packaging. There is growing evidence that a sustainable approach drives profitability as well as delivering on environmental goals. Statutory regulation and government targets are also driving change in the packaging industry, together with growing demands for a greener economy from an increasing number of consumers.  

 

LOOKING AHEAD TO A GREENER FUTURE

The adoption of sustainable materials and packaging practices is set to increase inexorably. There’s plenty to be done including understanding public attitudes to sustainability, and the development of recycling resources. There needs to be greater clarity on which materials are recyclable and reusable. 

We can expect to see significant developments in paper, card and sustainable plastics (bioplastics), and a growing recycling infrastructure. Allied with a move away from fossil fuels for transport and power, and the rise of highly-efficient, technology-driven processing and packaging machinery, the possibilities for a greener future are growing all the time. 

 

Sustainable Packaging at the PPMA Show

Sustainable packaging has quickly become one of the foremost concerns for modern business, and the future of sustainability continues to be a major priority at the PPMA show every year. The event provides an opportunity for industry professionals to connect and discuss future initiatives that can help reduce plastic waste, improve efficiency through automation, and ultimately help create more eco-friendly packaging solutions. 

As technology evolves, so too does our understanding of sustainable packaging and how it affects our day to day lives. For those interested in staying ahead of the curve on future developments in the field of sustainable packaging, attending the PPMA show is an invaluable experience.