With global drives to reduce plastics and non-recyclable packaging, are we at the stage where green packaging solutions can cater for all our needs? What does the future of packaging look like without plastic?
In this blog article, we’ll explore what the current trends are in product packaging and plastic-less solutions. We’ll also ask whether these trends are enough to ensure a greener future or if we need to push harder and invest more. Finally, we ask whether this green approach will make a difference.
Current trends of plastic packaging
Plastic is cheap and easily moldable, which is why it’s often used to make single-use products, such as disposable cutlery and straws. It’s also why it dominates the world of product packaging. But the issue with single-use plastics is that they are not recyclable. According to Sky Ocean Rescue, “plastic can take up to 500 years to degrade in aquatic environments”.
Plastic-free packaging is beginning to gain popularity with supermarket chains such as Marks and Spencer (M&S) and Iceland committing to reduce their plastic waste. And it’s not just packaging. More than 90 brands announced a commitment to go plastic-free in March 2018, with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation saying more are coming forward every week.
Plastic-free packaging is beginning to gain popularity with supermarket chains such as M&S and Iceland committing to reduce their plastic waste. And it’s not just packaging. More than 90 brands announced a commitment to go plastic-free in March 2018, with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation saying more are coming forward every week.
Further, plastic has also become ubiquitous in the construction industry due to its versatility and durability. Many construction materials are now being made from plastic.
Going plastic-free: the big question
With such a dramatic increase in the amount of plastic used, it’s no wonder that more and more brands are exploring alternatives – both for packaging and other products. It’s clear that manufacturers are taking environmental concerns seriously, but it remains to be seen if they are willing to make changes either without compensation or as an extra cost for consumers.
Several companies are reconsidering their dependence on plastic packaging including:
M&S, which has already eliminated single-use plastic wrapping across its entire fruit and vegetable range; has removed all plastic from its own brand reusable water bottles, food containers and paper bags; has removed microbeads from all of its washing products by 2017; and plans to remove black plastic from its fruit and vegetables range by the end of 2018.
Tesco, which has eliminated all plastic packaging from its own brand fresh food except fruit and vegetables; from December 1, 2018, Tesco will use paper instead of plastic in all fresh food packaging (excluding meat and fish), to reduce pollution in the oceans.
Iceland, the largest retailer in Europe with over 400 stores across 29 countries, announced in March 2018 its intention to ultimately eliminate plastic-packaging across all products – including non-food items such as cosmetics.
Innovations in plastic-free packaging: biodegradable, compostable and edible
Biodegradable plastics are polymers that can break down under certain conditions. Biopolymers are also made from renewable resources and can be degraded naturally in the environment. Examples of biodegradable plastics include starches, cellulose and protein-based materials, such as gluten. Although these are not traditional plastics, they may have a role to play in reducing plastic waste if they provide a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastics.