Product Packaging: Which Packaging Materials Are the Least Eco-Friendly

June 19, 2018

It can be difficult to properly sort your recycling. It used to be that sorting recycling was as simple as determining whether an item was garbage or recyclable. Now, all of the different types of recyclable materials are sorted and segmented based on the ease in which they can be recycled. Not all papers, metals, or plastics can be resourcefully recycled the same way.

While it can be challenging for a consumer to know which recycling bin to place packaging materials in, research and buying trends have clearly demonstrated that consumers care a great deal about the eco-friendliness of the products they buy—particularly millennials. In fact, 55% of consumers say that they’re willing to pay more for products or services provided by companies that demonstrate a commitment to positive social and environmental impact.

For manufacturers of consumer goods, it’s become important to communicate to consumers through brand messaging and product packaging that their products are created with the environment in mind.

Need help determining which materials are environmentally friendly and which are not? Here are some examples of packaging materials that are eco-friendly and below four that are not.

1. Multi-Colored Glass

Glass is normally an easily and regularly recycled material used for packaging—at least for glass that is clear or monocolored. Colored glass presents recycling complications that place it on this list of non-eco-friendly materials.

When the color of glass is changed from its original clear form, the glass can’t be reproduced in a different color. This is fine in cases such as a wine bottle where the green-tinted glass can be used again in the same form. But for bottles that are shaded in gradient color schemes where the glass is multiple colors, it becomes incredibly hard to reuse. Typically, the recycling site will just discard these types of glass.

2. Combo Materials

Packaging options that use a combination of materials, sometimes called multi-compositional packaging, are a packaging method to avoid due to the recycling process. The recycling difficulty that packaging made from multiple materials causes occurs during separation. When an item is comprised of entirely separate, recyclable waste streams, each material needs to be isolated to be recycled.

The most common offenders of combo-material packaging are paper and plastic. There are a number of different packaging forms when part of the container is comprised of paper and part is plastic. It usually occurs with a paper-made base and a plastic lid, such as some coffee cups or single-serve beverage options. In most cases, issues occur when one material is natural and the other is synthetic.

3. Polystyrene Foam

Of the culprits on this list, polystyrene foam (or styrofoam) is one of the most commonly used. 1,460,000 tons of polystyrene foam were deposited in landfills in the United States in 2006, and that number unfortunately hasn’t gone down. Styrofoam is made of non-renewable petroleum and is not biodegradable.

As soon as polystyrene is contaminated by food (like crumbs or grease) it is no longer recyclable, and very few recycling facilities accept it—even when it’s clean. Worse yet, polystyrene has an adverse effect on our health. It contains the neurotoxins styrene and benzene, which are widely accepted to be carcinogens. Some cities such as Portland and San Francisco have outright banned styrofoam due to the harm it causes.

4. Paperboard

Paperboard is often used as a container in product packaging. Paperboard is largely made out of recyclable material, and is generally recyclable itself if it is not contaminated by food or water.

But in most cases, paperboard is contaminated and becomes a single-use container, destined to occupy space in a landfill. When it comes to packaging containers, a reusable material is always going to have a better effect on the environment.

Product Packaging from Flexo Impressions

You want your product packaging to keep your products safe, appeal to consumers, and deliver an excellent experience for your customers. There are a lot of different types of product packaging and materials to consider when making your decision. If you need help selecting the perfect packaging solution for your company and product, Flexo Impressions is here to help. Like our parent company, Taylor Corporation, Flexo strives to utilize sustainable raw materials wherever possible. We and our material vendors employ leading sustainability practices across all of our labeling and packaging operations—identifying and reducing our environmental impact at every opportunity.

Interested in working with Flexo Impressions? Then contact us today and tell us about your brand and product. We look forward to hearing from you!

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