At present, our world is facing significant problems regarding excess packaging waste. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates over 80 million tons of used containers and packaging materials are discarded each year, totaling almost 30% of all solid municipal waste.
To make matters worse, experts believe that of the 380 million tons of plastic produced each year, as much as 50% is used just once before being discarded. This shortsighted approach has led to almost 80% of all plastics ever produced currently sitting in landfills and natural spaces.
The way that many large-scale manufacturers treat non-biodegradable and plastic packaging materials is simply unsustainable, but thankfully there’s a growing demand among consumers for more environmentally conscious solutions. To learn how forward-thinking businesses are tackling this issue, let’s explore eco-friendly packaging solutions in sustainable manufacturing.
What is Eco-friendly Packaging?
Though there is no official definition, eco-friendly packaging is typically understood to represent any form of packaging material used during manufacturing that poses less of a threat to humans and the environment than traditional alternatives. For a packaging material to be fairly described as environmentally friendly, the finished product must meet one or more of the following criteria.
Eco-friendly packaging should be:
- Easily recycled
- Made from recycled materials
- Naturally biodegradable
- Produced using renewable energy
- Free from toxic materials and pollutants
Meeting all of these criteria is understandably tricky when mass-producing consumer products, though achieving any of these goals represents a measurable improvement over materials such as plastic and styrofoam. The EPA estimates less than 9% of plastic waste is recycled per year, plastic materials do not decompose, and discarded styrofoam takes up 30% of all landfill space.
Examples of Eco-friendly Packaging Materials
With the definition of eco-friendly packaging materials covered, let’s look into the options currently available to manufacturers wishing to pursue sustainable operations. From alternative production methods to recyclable and biodegradable materials, below is a selection of famous examples outlining how sustainable manufacturers can utilize eco-friendly packaging materials.
Manufactured using natural materials such as wood, hemp, and cotton, cellulose packaging is an entirely biodegradable and compostable alternative to traditional plastic film. Cellulose materials can be reused and recycled freely, with moisture-resistant properties enabling food companies to safely package and distribute food products wrapped in cellulose film without risking spoilage.
Cornstarch packaging is a little more versatile than cellulose film, able to be molded into various solid shapes such as bottles and food containers, as well as alternatives to plastic film. Though cornstarch packaging is biodegradable and free from harmful toxins, its production doesn't come without issue, as the corn required for manufacturing does compete with food industry supplies.
Recycled card and paper
Cardboard boxes and paper liners are far more sustainable than any plastic alternatives, with the average cardboard product able to be recycled up to 7 times. Additionally, cardboard and natural paper packaging materials are 100% biodegradable, and their use has been shown to contribute to a 60% reduction in CO2 and oil emissions when compared to alternative materials.
Mushroom packaging is among the most eco-friendly solutions available to manufacturers, with this product created by repurposing agricultural waste which is then fused with mycelium roots and dried to form a rigid plastic alternative. Mushroom packaging degrades far faster than most sustainable materials, meaning it can be easily composted and reused as a natural fertilizer.
Green cell foam
Green cell foam can be used to replace the non-biodegradable polystyrene packaging often found protecting fragile items in transit. Made from corn, manufacturing this material requires 70% less energy and emits 80% less greenhouse gasses than comparable petroleum-based foams, and once used it can be dissolved in water to form a non-toxic natural waste product.
Glassline is a glossy paper-like material formed from wood pulp that can be used to replace plastic sheets and films with a 100% recyclable alternative. In particular, glassline is an excellent alternative to the plastic wallets used to affix product documentation to shipped items, retaining similar water resistance and durability properties to plastics while being entirely biodegradable.
Single-use plastics and non-biodegradable packing materials are contributing significantly to the escalating pollution problems communities are observing around the world. If we’re to effectively combat climatic issues, global manufacturers must switch to sustainable packaging alternatives.
Recent reports reveal that 82% of consumers would be willing to pay more for products packaged using sustainable materials, highlighting the public’s increasing desire for more environmentally friendly options. By swapping single-use plastics for biodegradable and recyclable alternatives, sustainable manufacturers can contribute to a cleaner and safer world, one shipment at a time.