141 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year in the packaging industry, more than any other industrial sector, the World Economic Forum reveals. At the same time 67% of consumers think reusable packaging is important. Fortunately, in response to customer demand and environmental pressure, many companies are making sustainable changes to the way their products are packaged. Innovative alternatives and strategies are being used to create a greener world.
Similar to polystyrene foam, mycelium is a cutting-edge packing material that’s biodegradable, durable, lightweight, mouldable, and quick and easy to produce. Mycelium is obtained via an innovative (and carbon-neutral) bio-engineering process using agricultural waste, therefore breathing new life into waste. It’s also affordable and can be used to inexpensively protect glass during shipping. Alternatively, polyhydroxy butyrate (PHB) is an organically-produced polymer that functions as a bioplastic solution for packaging. When PHB is thrown out, it breaks down while maintaining the potential to be regenerated in a circular and zero-carbon process.
The average consumer generates around 175kg of packaging waste every year — however, only two-thirds of this amount is recycled. By encouraging recycling in all areas of life, and particularly in the workplace, plastic waste can be effectively reduced. By offering organized recycling facilities, for example, recycling can more easily become the norm for employees. Additionally, manufacturers are also implementing recyclable plastic into their operations to further minimize waste. For example, Colgate-Palmolive has created toothpaste tubes made from recyclable material, while Coca-Cola now sells Sprite in recyclable, clear bottles (an alternative to non-recyclable green). Additionally, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble are working with the Holy Grail consortium to incorporate “invisible barcodes” into products, which allows plastics to be sorted automatically by recycling plants.
The easiest way to minimize plastics in the packaging sector is to eliminate them completely where possible. For example, in the UK, ASDA and Tesco no longer use plastic film in products like bed linen, occasion cards, multi-buy tins, and yogurt pots. And Walmart in the US has cut clear plastic wrappings from loose vegetables and doll packaging. Additionally, many household cleaning and laundry products have switched to water-soluble films and Carlsberg is using glue instead of plastic rings to stick six-packs of beer together.
Eliminating plastic waste is a key priority for the packaging sector. Plastic alternatives, recycling, and direct elimination are helping the industry make the shift toward sustainability.