What’s Next for Sustainable Packaging?

Manufacturers are incorporating a range of biodegradable plastics, recycled paper, and renewable materials into products and packaging.

It Takes Sustainable Practices and Product Design to Truly Benefit the Environment

By Jeremy Freedman, owner and managing director of Guardpack

It’s no secret that there is a global concern over the environmental impact of many of our day-to-day products, including our clothes and even what’s wrapped around the food we eat.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by McKinsey and Co discovered that as many as 75% of millennial respondents already consider sustainability before purchasing a product. And 64% of all UK adult respondents are already taking action to lead a more sustainable lifestyle by limiting the use of single-use plastics – a 3% rise on the previous year. So, we’re certainly heading in the right direction.

As the world continues to become more and more conscious of the need to minimize our carbon footprint, an increasing number of manufacturers are seeking ways to design products that are efficient, functional, and sustainable. In the search for this, the use of innovative materials has become a crucial aspect, and manufacturers have begun incorporating a range of biodegradable plastics, recycled paper, and bamboo into not only their product’s packaging, but also the product in and of itself.

Sustainable materials are a crucial aspect of responsible manufacturing, and it’s encouraging to see that more and more companies are adopting sustainable practices into their product design, but what is it that’s making these products sustainable, biodegradable, and beneficial to the environment?

Bioplastics are compostable

Most bioplastics are a biodegradable form of plastic derived from renewable substances, such as corn, sugarcane and other plant-based materials. Some are even being created from food waste! Due to being manufactured from these natural materials, the vast majority of bioplastics are entirely compostable, all whilst producing significantly less greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, due to being plant-based, bioplastics are particularly useful for food-related packaging because of their non-toxic nature.

While many forms of bioplastic show comparable strength and durability to more conventional plastics, advancements in this area remain restricted due to the cost of production. Despite this, however, many countries, like China, Canada, Germany and the U.S., are making significant investments into bioplastics, intending to enhance their financial viability on a large scale.

Edible packaging minimizes waste

As the name suggests, this form of sustainable packaging is designed to be eaten alongside the food that it protects. Most commonly being manufactured from natural, plant-based materials, such as seaweed and casein, edible packaging provides an effective, renewable alternative to conventional plastic food packaging. Once the appropriate ingredients are selected, natural films and coatings are created by emulsifying or dispersing polymers into a solvent to form a film. With the assistance of this solvent (often water or ethanol), the tasteless film is applied directly to the food item.

By utilizing edible packaging, packaging waste can be minimized, if not entirely eliminated. Edible packaging circumvents traditional recycling methods, with no traces being left behind in recyclable landfills. What’s more, should they be improperly disposed of – as many wrappers and plastic items often are – their natural biodegradability ensures these items remain as environmentally friendly as possible. One of the only issues, it would seem, is trying to convince people to eat what they would normally throw away!

Mycelium-based protective packaging is biodegradable

As an alternative to fossil fuel-derived forms of protective packaging, like Styrofoam, mycelium-based packaging is made from the root structure of mushrooms, as well as waste products, such as hemp and corn husks. Rather than going through a traditional manufacturing process, mycelium-based packaging uses 3D moulds to naturally grow into almost any desired shape, making it ideal for brands with unique products.

The mycelium grows through and around the hemp or other organic waste, binding them together like glue to form a solid shape. Once the desired shape has been reached, it’s heat-treated to dry out, kill any spores or bacteria, and prevent it from growing any further. Mycelium-based packaging is entirely biodegradable, with its natural materials actually adding nutrients to the soil from whence it came.

About the Author

Jeremy Freedman is the owner and managing director of Guardpack – the UK’s most established manufacturer of individual wet wipe sachets. Learn more at www.guardpack.co.uk

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