Eco-packaging: different types and advantages of using them
With society demanding greater awareness and care for the environment, companies are forced to make the transition to sustainable packaging. We seem to have realized that plastic waste management is a problem. Each year, many tons of plastic pollute natural ecosystems and consumers are becoming increasingly aware, resulting in a different purchasing behaviour.
The global production of plastics was 359 million tons in 2018, which is a weight similar to the approximate weight of the world’s population according to National Geographic. Furthermore, this organization claims that more than 90% of the world’s plastics are produced from fossil fuels, and 42% of the plastic used in the world is for food packaging, containers, and manufactured products.
We’ve all seen many types of eco-packaging when shopping, but they are not all the same. Below, we delve into the different types of eco-packaging, their characteristics and their advantages and applications.
- You may be interested in: Sustainable plastics for different types of packaging.
What is eco-packaging?
Eco-packaging is a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic packaging due to its lower environmental impact. There are different reasons why packaging can be environmentally friendly. An example could be the origin of its raw material or if it is biodegradable or if it is made from recycled plastic.
When a packaging is made from renewable raw materials, we can say that it is sustainable packaging. It is a packaging that, although it does not have to be biodegradable, does not use fossil-based- raw materials such as petroleum. Many times, these materials, known as bio-based, are obtained from sugar cane or beetroot.
Another type of eco-packaging is biodegradable packaging. This is packaging made from sustainable materials that, under the right biodegradation conditions, eventually disappear without leaving residues or remains of microplastics in nature.
On the other hand, we find compostable packaging. When a product is compostable, it means that it should be disposed with the rest of the organic waste because, under compostable conditions, it biodegrades and turns into CO2, compost and water. This compost could be used for new crops, where seeds can be replanted to give rise to new materials.
- Discover what biodegradable materials are and what they are used for.
It is important to note that sustainable packaging manufactured by packaging companies must comply with all safety guarantees for consumer’s use. For instance, PLA material is an alternative to conventional plastic and is a safe material for the manufacture of food packaging.
Certifications that allow us to distinguish eco-packaging
Progressively we find terms such as «bio-based», «biodegradable» or «compostable» on the eco-packaging found on the shelves of our supermarkets.
These concepts sometimes generate some confusion among consumers, which has given rise to the European Standard EN 13432, which serves to specify when a material is compostable.
- What are the requirements for sustainable packaging to be compostable? We recommend this post on EN 13432.
On the other hand, due to the growing concern for the environment among consumers, bio-based plastics have also begun to form part of the packaging that we find in our daily lives. For this reason, a guarantee has also been created to ensure that the materials in front of us are truly bio-based. Certification schemes and labels for bio-based plastics are available in the European standard such as the Ok Biobased certificate from TUV Austria.
The most commonly used types of eco-packaging
Eco-packaging provides different advantages and properties that make it suitable for different types of products, especially those in the food sector.
It is important to note that this type of sustainable packaging does not change the taste or smell of the products inside. Moreover, in most cases, there is not even a reason to change the presentation of the product, so the customer will not notice the difference when using biodegradable packaging.
Here are some of the most commonly used sustainable packaging:
One application of eco-packaging found in compostable packaging is, without a doubt, bottles of natural and fresh products such as freshly squeezed juices or Spanish gazpacho.
These are foods with a short life span and, in addition, contain organic waste, so in many cases, their recycling is more expensive and less efficient because it is very difficult to separate the packaging from the food waste.
Like fresh food bottles, catering or ready-to-eat food trays create difficulties in recycling and are single-use containers. In other words, once the product has been consumed, the packaging is not needed again.
For this reason, and because they are accompanied by organic waste, it is ideal to use them as a sustainable alternative as eco-packaging and compostable materials. Thus, once the food has been consumed, the container and its contents can be deposited in the same bin: the organic bin.
Maniplastic, a company that transforms conventional plastic, is an example of a company that has started its transformation towards eco-packaging. Our R&D team developed a tailor-made and specific bioplastic for their machinery, we obtained a great result in the industrial manufacturing of thermoformed trays.
Coffee capsules are products that are deposited in a container with the coffee inside them. By using compostable products, there is no need to separate both elements.
In addition, this type of eco-packaging, being so small, also generates difficulties during the mechanical recycling process.
Caps and coffee stirrers
Caps and coffee stirrers are other items that are very difficult to recycle. They are small pieces that are often stained with organic material and are also single-used.
Did you know that at Prime Biopolymers we have two grades of bioplastic created specifically for the manufacture of caps and coffee stirrers?
What is eco-packaging made of?
One way to differentiate eco-packaging is to know how to distinguish the raw material from which it is made of. Some packaging, as we have mentioned, does not come from petroleum derivatives such as PET or PP.
On the other hand, they are also made of biodegradable materials, which eventually degrade thanks to the action of microorganisms found in nature.
One of the most widely used bioplastics is polylactic acid (PLA), which is normally found in trays, bottles, etc. It is a bio-based material and also biodegradable.
On the other hand, we find non-biodegradable bio-based materials such as biopolyethylene. Finally, through the development of tailor-made materials, at Prime Biopolymers we develop customized grades of bioplastics for each type of manufacturing and packaging. This way, we manage to multiply in an exceptional way the possibilities and applications of this type of sustainable materials.
Why is the packaging sector opting for sustainable materials?
There are different reasons for using sustainable packaging. However, there are two major benefits:
Respect for the environment
The plastic issue is already a huge problem and much of the plastic that is manufactured worldwide is destined for the packaging industry.
The development of sustainable materials and packaging has become one of the great allies in tackling the waste problems that are so damaging to the environment today.
Corporate Social Responsability
The fundamental mission of packaging is to protect the inner product. However, nowadays, this goes much further. The packaging is now a fundamental part of the product that accompanies the brand, enhances it and is a reflection of the company’s values.
Consumers are increasingly becoming more demanding and this is leading the industry to demand sustainable packaging. This is what has given rise to the era of eco packaging, where companies use this part of their product to show the rest of the world that they are a sustainable and environmentally responsible company.
Ultimately, the use of eco packaging reinforces the brand image, shows a greater environmental responsibility on the part of the company and gets the brand to identify with the concerns of society. All this results in differentiation from the competition and increased consumer loyalty.