Tag Archives: Sustainable Packaging

Biodegradable Plastic Packaging – 5 things you need to know

If you use plastic packaging, carriers or cutlery to give to your customers it is tempting to use biodegradable versions.  These can be a good idea, but only in the right circumstances. Read on to find out why;

1. Biodegradable plastics don’t necessarily break down in the sea, on land or in landfill. There are 2 main kinds of biodegradable plastics for packaging – compostable and oxo-degradable.  Compostables have to be processed in specific conditions for them to break down, and there is currently doubt over the effectiveness of oxo-degradables.

 

2. Compostable plastics – are usually made from natural sources – like corn starch or cellulose from wood. They are often used for carrier bags, disposable cutlery and bags for food waste where councils collect it.  Most of these will only break down in an industrial composter, or an anaerobic digester, which operates at temperatures of around 60°C.   These can be identified with the symbol above with the code EN13432.  More details available here .   Unless you / your customers have access to an industrial composting waste stream, these materials could be doing more harm than good – at best they will either be incinerated or stay intact in landfill.  At worst they could decompose in landfill releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, or end up contaminating the plastics recycling stream.  Green-field music festivals are a good example of where compostable items can work as they have complete control over their waste management.  (Vegware have this sorted)

 

Home compostability logo

3. Home Compostable plastics – are the same as the industrially compostable plastics above, but will compost at lower temperatures, so in theory you can put them in your compost heap. I’d love to hear from anyone that does this – my garden is too small for a compost heap!

4. Compostable plastics decompose to water, carbon dioxide or methane and a very small amount of biomass . Very little of the original material is left behind as compost.  Composting of plastics is really just a way to make them disappear, a slow version of incineration!  (although the methane can be captured from anaerobic digestion and used as fuel)

 

Oxo-biodegradable plastic bag on a beach in 2011.

5. Oxo-degradable plastics (or oxo-biodegradable plastics) – are standard oil-based plastics, like Polythene, which have an additive included.  The additive makes the plastic fragment into smaller pieces over time.  In theory, these smaller fragments can then be digested by micro-organisms.  However, in November 2017, 150 organisations including Greenpeace and WWF endorsed a statement from Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy that recommends putting a hold on using this kind of plastic until it has been proven that these particles do not accumulate in ecosystems. You can read the report here .  Naturally the Oxo-biodegradable plastics association refute this.  My experience is that they take a long time to break up in the environment – the photo above shows a carrier bag I found on a beach in March 2011 – it had been around long enough for the ink to fade, but not for the bag to break up (the retailer in question no longer uses this technology).  (By the way if you have stored something in one of these bags over the last few years check up on it – they make a real mess when they start to flake!)

The points discussed above don’t mean we should stop looking into biodegradable plastics, far from it, but the method of disposal needs to be considered before making claims about the benefit to the environment.  Ideally in a few years there will be no public demand for biodegradable packaging as all of it will be captured and reprocessed before entering the environment as part of a circular economy!

Do you use biodegradable packaging? Do you compost at home?  Do you think all plastic packaging should be biodegradable? Let me know your experiences in the comments section below.

To see how I can help your business grow, check out the case studies and services provided pages on my website. For more information, contact me here, call me on 07826 791 045 or subscribe to my monthly newsletter

The Big Plastics Debate – Who Won?

The Packaging Innovations show at the NEC, held at the end of February could, at a pinch, be described as the Glastonbury of the packaging world.  Alongside supplier exhibits, there are plenty of opportunities to meet up with colleagues and attend talks and discussions from professionals in the industry. 

 The BBC’s Blue Planet, the UK Government’s 25 year plan and Iceland Foods’ announcement that they intend to go plastic free on their own brand products by 2023 has ignited an enormous amount of debate throughout both industry and the general public.

Rightly so, the Packaging Innovations organisers, Easyfairs leapt on this opportunity and planned as the headline event ‘The Big Plastics Debate’ a session of talks and a panel discussion with key industry players.

Martin Kersh from the Foodservice Packaging Association spoke on legislation.   The stand out points for me were;

  • The Packaging Industry’s frustration with the public’s understanding of the issues (using the anti-straw campaign as an example),
  • A call for legislation reform to encourage the incorporation of recycled material into packaging, and
  • For all brand owners to join a packaging waste compliance scheme, not just those above a certain turnover.

Ian Schofield shared Iceland’s vision for their own brand products.  The retailer says they have listened to their customers and by eliminating plastic are giving them what they want.  Interestingly he is avoiding the use of bioplastics marketed as compostable or biodegradable.   He acknowledged that it wouldn’t always be easy, but Iceland have made a strong statement of intent and they are sticking with it.

The discussion panel, which took questions from the floor included Ian Ferguson from the Co-op,  Nick Brown from Coca-Cola and Kevin Vyse from M&S.   Slightly disappointingly, it was a very well mannered affair.  You can view the whole session here on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Zib38FsFjU

 

So who won the debate?

Interestingly the retailers and brand-owners seemed to have more in common than differences.   They all (naturally) want to keep food waste to a minimum, in which plastic plays an important part, move away from plastic where possible and increase the recyclability and recycled content of the plastics they are left with – Iceland’s first step for frozen food bags is to move away from laminates to more easily recycled monolayers;  Coca-Cola intend to dramatically increase the use of recycled content of their bottles over the coming years.

In summary, it was an interesting couple of hours.   It would have been good to see more variety in the panel – maybe someone from Surfers Against Sewage or Friends of the Earth and the British Plastics Federation who have been very vocal on the subject , but it was a good start, and it will be interesting to see how much progress has been made this time next year.

Do you think the packaging industry is doing enough to combat plastic waste? Add your comments below.

If you need help to reduce plastic packaging from your products, contact me to find out how I can help or call me on 07826 791 045.

You can join my mailing list for general information on packaging (emails sent out about once a month)

Sarah

6 Ways to Reduce Your Packaging Footprint This Christmas

Do you ever feel guilty about the amount of waste packaging created on Christmas Day or are you just fed up with the extra bags of rubbish waiting for the first collection after the holiday?

This is a reblog of a post from last year with details updated.  The packs from Muc-Off and M&S in 2) are still available.  This year I’ll be posting photos of Christmas packaging on my Instagram profile – @sarah_greenwood_packaging Why not take a look and let me know what you think?

It’s not always possible to choose low packaging options if your loved one has their heart set on the latest toy or technology, but where you do have a choice here are some tips on how to reduce your packaging waste over Christmas;

 

1. Use Your Own Bags When Christmas Shopping

Since the introduction of the 5p bag tax in 2015, we’ve got used to taking reusable bags food shopping, but how many of us them for gift shopping too?  Every single bag refused by a customer, whether paper or plastic, means fewer raw materials used and less energy used to produce, transport and recycle/ dispose of it.

My Christmas shopping in the rucksack I’ve bought for the Rucksack Project Barnsley, more on that below

My Christmas shopping in the rucksack I’ve bought for The Rucksack Project Barnsley, more on that below

 

2. Choose Gifts in Secondary-Use Packaging

Packs with a secondary use are a good way of making fabulous looking gifts – there aren’t many households without a repurposed traditional biscuit tin, even if it’s just used for keeping more biscuits in (which is a very noble cause if you ask me).  More up to date examples include chocolates in a jewellery box from M&S and Muc-Off (the bike-cleaning experts) personal care kits in a tub perfect for keeping bike odds and ends in.

M&S Chocoates in packaging reusable as a gift box

M&S Chocolates in packaging reusable as a jewellery box

Muc-Off body products in reusable container with closures in their signature hot pink

Muc-Off body products in a reusable container with closures in their signature hot pink

On the other hand…

 

3. Beware of Gift Packs!

Retailers and manufacturers are wise to the fact that we like an easy life and package gifts in easy to wrap boxes designed to make them fly off the shelves.  These packs often contain large amounts of plastic packaging that can’t always be recycled, but we only really notice at the point of disposal.  Consider buying the components separately and putting in a homemade gift box (see 6.) for a personal touch.  However, gift boxes can be very competitively priced versus the individual components so some inconvenient plastic could be a small price to pay for a bargain – only you can decide that.

Reusable and recyclable gift boxes from the Body Shop

Value for money, reusable and recyclable gift boxes from the Body Shop

 

4. Shop at Your Local Craft Market

Handmade gifts from craft markets use less packaging as they have not had to be protected with as much secondary transit packaging, usually unseen by us as shoppers, in order to ship it halfway round the world.  Not only are you saving on packaging, but buying unique items, supporting your local economy and probably having a much better shopping experience – sipping mulled-wine and listening to local musicians.

I’ll be going to the Etsy Local event in my local town of Barnsley on 2nd Dec organised by Crafty Business Barnsley – check this link for one near you.

Etsy Made Local advert from Crafty Business Barnsley

 

5. Choose Recyclable Wrapping Papers 

No-one can deny that half the fun of receiving a present is the unwrapping, and the fancier the better, but the decorative effects that make the papers so attractive make them difficult to recycle – many local councils don’t accept wrapping paper for recycling (or greetings cards) for this reason. Choose papers that have been decorated with print, not foil and glitter.   Curling ribbon and premade bows are difficult to recycle too – it’s difficult to find recyclable alternatives – if anyone comes up with anything please let me know!

Recyclable and non-recyclable wrapping papers. The one on the left is printed, the one on the right decorated with glitter.

Recyclable and non-recyclable wrapping papers. The one on the left is printed, the one on the right decorated with glitter

 

6. Make Your Own Reusable Boxes

I guess most of us have reused a gift bag at some point but how about covering old boxes with wrapping paper and lined with tissue paper to make reusable gift boxes?   The photo shows a covered shoe-box my mum made a few years ago for a pair of vintage Babycham glasses for me.  OK it takes a bit of time and planning, but you’ve got something that can be used again next year or if you’re conservative with the wrapping paper design the giftee can use it as a storage container.  Follow this link to find out how to wrap a shoe-box from Karen Kaye, a professional gift-wrapper.

Reusable gift box made from a shoe box covered in wrapping paper - it's seen better days, but you get the idea

Reusable gift box made from a shoe box covered in wrapping paper – it’s seen better days, but you get the idea!

Of course if you really wanted to reduce packaging, you could look at giving gift vouchers, tickets, or a donation to charity on someone’s behalf – no packaging at all, except the envelope for the gift card.  This year I’m sitting somewhere in the middle – giving smaller presents and spending the difference in donations to The Rucksack Project Barnsley – you get hold of a  rucksack and fill it with warm clothing etc.  The rucksacks are then given to people sleeping rough this winter.

Whatever you decide to do, Happy Christmas!

 

Do you have any more ideas on how to reduce your packaging footprint this Christmas?  Please add them to the comments below.

If you need help with the development of your packaging for 2018, please contact me.

Sarah Greenwood,

Sarah Greenwood Packaging

sarah@scgreenwood.co.uk

07826 791 045