Somewhere between California and Hawaii a new “continent” is being formed gradually – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It already covers an area six times the size of Poland and keeps on growing. It consists mostly of old fishing nets and plastic packaging. You can find in it toilet seats from the 1970s, which will disintegrate around the year 3000. However, much earlier, this trash patch may bring about the death of large areas of the ocean. And the rapid development of e-commerce will have a significant contribution on this, unless you start packaging in a green and more conscious way. We suggest below how to do it.
The offshore plastic accumulation zone drifting in the Pacific was first noticed in 1988, however its description and name was established by oceanographer Charles Moore, who came across the floating monster in 1997. Since then, the patch has been continuously growing because there is currently no proper technology that would allow it to be diminished. Or maybe because there are still some Hawaiian beaches which do not look like waste landfills?
Paper versus foil
The trash patch seems to strongly discourage the use of plastics (and other petroleum products) in packaging. Foam films, bubble wrap, air cushions, granules, and especially stretch film, which is practically unrecyclable – should all these products go away? Theoretically yes, but still the question remains, what to use for packaging?
Producers of paper packaging and fillers have the answer. The trouble is that not all paper is the same – not all kinds of paper meet even the minimum requirements to be considered an organic product.
The conflict between paper and plastic is difficult to resolve for many reasons. They are not always alternatives – there are situations in which you can choose between plastic and paper (e.g. when using fillers), but sometimes you have to use one or the other, e.g. to protect products against moisture.
The assessment of the harmful effects of paper and plastic on the environment is not obvious either. If you consider the environmental impact of the production process, then plastic definitely beats paper in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of energy, water and raw materials. Plastics are also much easier to recycle, but while paper needs 2-3 years to biodegrade, some currently produced plastics will still remain chemically and physically unchanged even after 1,000 years.
So the question arises, which currently available materials should be used for efficient and eco-friendly packaging?
New is not green
When you want to ensure your packaging is eco-friendly, you should remember one general rule: it is the production of new packaging and filling materials which is the most harmful to the environment. Thus, usage of those made of recycled materials is the most eco-friendly.
How to make your packaging green? Here are a few tips showing you the way to significantly reduce the adverse environmental impact:
- recyclable materials and biodegradable materials – if you choose paper as a filler or wrapping material, you should use recycled paper, if possible (there was no need to cut forests to produce it, but only to develop a paper recovery and recycling system); if you decide on foil, then you should use biodegradable or recycled foil,
- up-cycling (‘Upcycling – the second life of the packaging’) – as far as possible, you should re-use fillers, cardboard boxes and other types of packaging,
- the use of packaging planning algorithms (‘Tetris for professionals, or the benefits of packing with an algorithm’) – the use of packaging planning software which does it in an automatic and very quick way, allows you to optimally use space in the package which results in fewer fillers, cardboard boxes and packaging tape, and ultimately in less space in containers and vans (lower fuel consumption),
- recovery and DIY usage of used packaging materials – each cardboard box can be simply processed in-house into an effective filler or become waste-paper to be put in a collection bin; you may do just the same with plastic packaging.
To sum up: eco-friendly packaging means a constant pursuit of optimisation of the packaging process, a conscious selection of packaging materials and fillers, as well as the implementation of good recycling practices in your business or home.