There are plenty of buzz words floating around in the packaging industry at the moment. With the war on plastics raging on, many companies are looking for ways to decrease their environmental impact. But what do these words really mean? What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable and which terms should we actually be using to describe our packaging? Let’s take a look at the top packaging industry buzzwords for 2019.
1. Sustainable / Sustainability
There is no universal definition of the word ‘sustainability’. The word originates from the French verb ‘soutenir’ and means “to hold up or support” (Brown et al 1987). Its modern conception originates in forestry with the underlying principle that the amount of wood harvested should not exceed the amount that is re-grown.
Most consumers associate ‘sustainable packaging’ with being less damaging to the environment whether that is in the way it is produced or in the way it is recycled, therefore reducing waste to landfill. Despite recent references by certain industries regarding the ‘war on plastics’ there’s no denying that most consumers have had enough of plastic packaging. Although plastic has its advantages in terms of food longevity and protection, it’s clear that manufacturers and supermarkets are going to have to make some major changes if they are going to keep their customers.
There are now more sustainable alternatives to food wrap and even sustainable toilet paper which is packaged in recycled paper and cardboard boxes. The pressure is now on the big names to show consumers what they can do to make their packaging stand out as having less impact on the environment whilst at the same time meeting the needs of its requirements as packaging.
2. Zero Waste
Sustainability is often closely linked to the phrase ‘zero waste’, a term coined to promote a product, company or service that endeavours to have as little impact on the environment as possible. There are even awards to be won in Zero Waste. Direct Cardboard Boxes have won an award from Let’s Recycling for their Reuse Initiative which helps companies to reduce their waste to landfill. Zero Waste stores like Nada in Leicester are popping up all over the place where customers can bring their own containers, creating ‘zero waste’ in terms of packaging when they do their weekly shop.
We’re all encouraged to reuse in our day to day lives, whether that’s with reusable shopping bags, coffee cups or water bottles. But in industry, and particularly in the packaging industry, the practice of reuse becomes more difficult. There are many manufacturers who generate large quantities of used cardboard boxes that are produced when items are unpacked on site. In an ideal world, it would be great if these boxes could be reused when the finished products are later sent out to consumers. Unfortunately, this is not usually possible. Instead, the boxes get baled and sent to a recycling company whilst the company buys more boxes in a different size to package their new products.
Luckily Direct Cardboard Boxes have an alternative. They create supply chain solutions which effectively make it easy for companies to reuse each other’s cardboard boxes. This means instead of going to a manufacturer, you can choose from a large range of quality used cardboard boxes, from small postal boxes and packing boxes, right up to pallet boxes and octabins.
4. Circular Economy
Reusing on an industrial scale is vital if we are to work towards a more circular economy. In a traditional linear economy goods are used only once before being disposed of, usually sent to landfill. A truly circular economy effectively designs out the concept of waste so that materials are continuously reused and our natural systems are able to regenerate. The Ellen Macarthur Foundation states that creating a more circular economy is the only way in which we can create a thriving economy in which everyone can benefit within the limits of our planet.
Recycling refers to the process of breaking down one product and converting it into something new. Many consumers see it as an easy way of helping the environment and disposing of our waste. However, it is important to remember that recycling alone is not enough. Whilst there will always be a need for recycling, particularly for items that cannot be reused, it must not be seen as a solution to our waste crisis. In the paper industry cardboard can only be recycled a maximum of 7 times before the fibres become too stretched. Recycling as a process requires large resources in terms of energy, water and raw materials. Before recycling is even considered we must first reduce and reuse as much as possible.
The term biodegradable refers to a material that will degrade by microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi over time. Whilst these items are an important step forward in the hunt for more environmentally friendly packaging, it must be remembered that certain types of material cannot biodegrade unless it is exposed to over 50 degrees Celsius for an extended amount of time. This particularly applies to certain biodegradable plastics which have been found not to have broken down when they have ended up in the ocean. Whilst biodegradable materials could prove to be better for our environment, it all depends on how they are handled.
Compostable items are broken down in a home or industrial compost system. The difference between biodegradable and compostable is that compostable products are intentionally broken down under certain conditions whereas biodegradable products utilise microorganisms within the products themselves to break down. Compostable items are often leftover food items such as banana skins or vegetable peelings. Products made using organic items can also be composted alongside food items.
This term refers to the practice of a business or company falsely claiming that their production process or products are environmentally friendly or ‘green’ in some way. Fear of greenwashing has led some companies to keep quiet about their eco-friendly credentials. To determine if a company really is working on its green credentials, it must be decided if their production process and products align with their marketing efforts.
It is clear that the most widely used packaging buzzwords for 2019 focus heavily on environmental practises and this is likely to be an important factor moving forward for the industry. Consumers are more environmentally aware than ever and packaging must be produced that reflects this.
Direct Cardboard Boxes offer complete supply chain solutions for cardboard boxes, working towards a more sustainable, circular economy. To find out more send us an email at [email protected]