Many UK companies are under increasing pressure from the Government to find a sustainable packaging alternative. A number of supermarkets have already committed to introducing plastic-free packaging within the next five-years and, with the Government pledging to address the issues surrounding plastic in the next 25-years, forward-thinking companies are beginning to assess the pros and cons of available packaging materials.
Despite this call for change, plastic is still integral to the packaging plans of many companies as the benefits in comparison to paper make it difficult to disregard the proven material and, with environmentally friendly plastic alternatives on the market it offers a viable packaging option.
Despite recent news stories focusing on the amount of plastic ending up in landfill or polluting the ocean, plastic recycling rates are rising, with the amount of recycled plastic up by 20% and the amount in landfill down by 9.5%. This is good news for plastic, however, with it still being recorded as one of the least recycled packaging materials, there needs to be more awareness around the importance of recycling and implementing CSR targets.
Steps are being taken to encourage consumers to recycle with some councils now accepting carrier bags as part of house-hold recycling schemes and many larger supermarkets accepting other plastic films via dedicated collection points.
There are also ‘greener’ plastic alternatives such as oxo-degradable plastics that are specially designed to degrade faster than regular polyethylene materials as they contain an additive that acts as a catalyst to speed up the degradation process. Oxygen and light help oxo-degradable films break down into micro fragments faster than traditional films. Quality is not sacrificed as oxo-degradable materials are equally as durable as other plastics so long as a quality resin from a reputable source is used.
Improving disposability is not the only way to improve the environmental performance of plastics; for example, GeoTech® Reprocessed material from Automated Packaging Systems is made up of pre-consumer recycled plastic to reduce environmental impact without compromising performance or quality.
Reprocessed void-fill pillows from Automated Packaging Systems also provide a protective packaging solution and are manufactured with up to 95% recycled content. The pillows come in easily-recognisable green shades for end-user awareness and have reliable printing characteristics. Part of the GeoTech family of films, the material helps to reduce landfill waste and like all polyethylene materials, can be repeatedly recycled.
Throughout the years, plastic has acquired a reputation as a durable, safe and reliable method of packaging. It is for this reason that many companies are reluctant to move away from plastic. In sectors such as food packaging, good hygiene and extended shelf life are essential and plastic packaging can preserve food freshness better than alternative methods. For example, the process of modified atmosphere packaging helps to lower the amount of oxygen within the packaging, slowing the growth of bacteria and thereby extending the product’s shelf life.
With reprocessed plastic offering an environmentally friendly alternative to virgin plastic and using 40 – 70% less material than paper, companies can still opt for high-performing plastic packaging while meeting their CSR and creating minimal environmental impact and the reduction in storage, waste and shipping costs means over-specifying can be avoided.
As a result, choosing reprocessed plastic enables companies to adhere to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive enforcing companies to efficiently manage packaging waste and reduce its impact on the environment.
Rising carbon emissions is another hot topic demanding public attention and the Government has expressed its commitment to tackling the issue. However, there is a misconception that paper packaging is ‘greener’ than plastic, yet in reality the process of making paper is more damaging for the environment and produces significantly more carbon emissions than that of making plastic.
Plastic production produces 80% less greenhouse gases, requires three times less water, uses fewer chemicals and creates substantially less waste than paper in petrochemical production, making it a low-carbon solution
Paper vs plastic: the answer is not straightforward, as both materials have their own advantages and disadvantages. However, with the war on plastic gaining ground, UK companies can be forgiven for overlooking the environmental benefits that plastic can offer over paper.
Both its durability and reliability ensure that plastic will remain at the forefront of the packaging industry in the near future and it is important that companies consider the greener plastic options that are available, achieve less product waste and implement strict recycling targets. This will ultimately help to create greater awareness of the issue at hand and significantly reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of waste heading to landfill or the ocean.