Product Packaging: Which Packaging Materials are the Most Eco-Friendly?
April 2, 2018
Product packaging is complex. When manufacturers of consumer goods are selecting the types of materials they are going to use to package their products, they’re faced with several challenges. And some of the challenges can’t be solved without sacrificing other elements of the packaging process. For example, manufacturers want a packaging solution that is light and convenient for consumer use, easy to ship and store on the shelves, and eco-friendly. But, more times that not, a packaging solution can only accomplish two of these goals.
To help inform manufacturers as they make their product packaging choices, this piece will provide an overview of environmentally-friendly packaging and some examples of packaging materials that keep Mother Earth happy.
Degrees of Eco-Friendly
The term eco-friendly gets thrown around quite a bit. By definition, an eco-friendly product is one that is not harmful to the environment. Seem a bit vague? That’s because the term is largely a marketing term. As consumers grew more environmentally conscious in recent decades, companies seized on marketing their products as being green and eco-friendly. What is often left out of the marketing is the degree to which the product is either harming, or reducing harm, to the environment.
When manufacturers are evaluating materials for packaging and researching which materials take care of Earth the most, it is important to discern that there are levels of eco-friendliness, and levels of harm toward the environment.
For example, a biodegradable plastic container is eco-friendly, but is not nearly as eco-friendly as a bioplastic container. On the other end of the equation, a magazine that is packaged with the additional plastic sealing is not considered eco-friendly as the plastic covering creates recycling complications. However, the environmental harm that this plastic sealing creates in contrast to the environmental harm that a toxic pesticide levels is night and day. Both of these products are classified as being non-eco-friendly, but the two are quite different in their offense.
When it comes to packaging, what makes a packaging solution more or less environmentally-friendly largely is determined by the recyclability of the product. What determines a product’s recyclability? Size and material. In general, the smaller the package is and the more materials that are used to create it, the less recyclable it will be. Products that are made of a singular product are usually very positive for the environment.
Some packaging that is especially eco-friendly includes:
Bioplastics are plastics that are made from plants or other renewable stock. Specifically, the starch that exists within a plant is processed to produce a polymer. Stocks that are used to compose bioplastics include wood, corn, soy, sugar cane, and grasses. Bioplastics are often confused with biodegradable plastics, but the two are different.
Bioplastics are much more eco-friendly than biodegradable plastics, as they are composed of renewable feedstocks and because they can be thrown away with food and other organic materials. Bioplastic packaging is on the rise, reaching a market value of $3.4 billion in 2017. The tremendous impact that bioplastics have on the environment promises to make them a popular packaging option in the future.
For manufacturers who are packaging food products, bioplastic packaging is especially appealing.
Plastics that are reformulated back into their original application are called recycled. The most common application is in the beverage industry utilizing RPET resin (Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate) versus virgin PET resin.
Recycled plastics are eco-friendly as they limit landfill waste and reduce the amount of fossil fuel resources needed to create plastics, giving them a much lower carbon footprint than virgin plastics. This type of plastic recycling is efficient as plastic bottles are reproduced into plastic bottles, as opposed to down-cycled recycling where plastic bottles or cans might be produced into other products such as park furniture.
In comparison to our fellow inhabitants on Earth, Americans don’t do a great job recycling. We only recycle about 34% of our waste, which pales in comparison to say Germany who sports a 63% recycle rate or Belgium with 58%. However, the one material that Americans have gotten the recycling memo on is paper. We recycle about 63% of the paper we use, compared to about 31% of plastics.
Manufacturers have an excellent opportunity for using recycled paper for their packaging. Recycled paper is very eco-friendly, as it diverts materials away from landfills and results in less land being destroyed by commercial forestry.
Flexible Packaging from Flexo Impressions
The primary goal of your product packaging is to appeal to consumers, and more and more consumers are being drawn towards products that are packaged with environmentally-friendly materials. Whether it’s bioplastic containers, a plastic bottle made RPET, or a coffee cup manufactured from recycled paper, eco-friendly packaging appeals to consumers and helps Mother Earth keep us safe.
If you’re looking for a label solution to broadcast your brand on your new eco-friendly packaging containers or bottles, contact Flexo Impressions to learn about our various flexible packaging solutions.