Simple question, complex answer!
For many retailers or consumers, it seems the answer is “avoid plastic” as public opinion believes plastic is bad for human and bad for the planet.
With my 25 years of experience in the packaging field in different organisations, I have to say that it’s not so simple, even if I fully understand the controversy about plastic in general. Too much plastic killed plastic. Microplastic in air, water, soil is definitively an issue, how to solve the problem should be the priority.
The dilemma we face is that at the same time, plastic could be helpful or harmful. Considering plastic to have a negative impact could be right or wrong, depending of its usage. But let us refrain from telling anything and everything …
What are the facts behind the plastic polemic?
- Do you know that natural, renewable bio-based plastics exist made from agricultural waste for example? Composting these plastics will give back to the nature what comes from nature. A nice story. Understanding origin & end of life of plastics could make the difference in our perception.
- Do you know that any packaging material requests additives, paper, plastic, even glass; The toxicity of all these additives is controlled to be harmless. Knowing which additives are used, transparency & traceability are crucial to trust in healthy material.
- Do you that replacing all plastic with paper fibre will have drastic consequences on sustainable forestry management? Only 10 % of the global forest is certified and available sustainable pulp could be an issue mid-term (<5 years). Balancing material for the right application is key.
- Do you know that paper as plastic, can be recycled 6-7 times- For glass, 30 % of calcine need to be added? All material needs new virgin components, water & energy during recycling cycle. Choosing efficient recycling system is essential.
- Do you know that plastic as well as paper trap the CO2 until they are burned? (that is why it should not be incinerated but recycled) – Having traceability of our waste is the future! Waste mismanagement is the real problem.
- Do you know that packaging protect product (transport -contamination)? Lack of packaging will lead more product wasted and more health problem. Unnecessary plastic or packaging must absolutely be avoided.
Do you know that very few packaging are effectively collected, sorted and recycled ? Maybe having specific partnership with retailers would be helpful? only one point of collect? it was a old system in Switzerland and quite new in the USA ( how2recycle)
Do you know that waste is money ? In Europe , sorting waste & recycling company seems limited , We could see in the near future , FMCG and the packaging makers taking the recycling off the waste management companies to ensure the value is retained and quality, kept in a close or open loop system. Loop did something similar for reuse, why not having similar system for recycling ?
Lots of innovations are popping up these days. New materials, new recycling processes. @Packaging Europe organized this month a web conference about potential of emerging technologies such as feedstock recycling and cutting edge sorting, and how can coordination across the value chain drive up recycling rates and quality of post-consumer recyclate.
It is worth to take a breath and think about the right path for our future and resist a bit to the pressure… Easy to say, difficult to do!
@ The right packaging company supports many organisations to develop their path for the future (lowering risk to avoid taking a wrong direction…)
The best solutions will depend on the product type, its shelf-life, and the distance of transportation of the packaged product. Because, unfortunately, not everyone can make their own cosmetics, natural fertilizer or go to their local market to buy fresh fruits , vegetables or meat to prepare their meal every day.
Having only nude products, or wrong packaging could give more concern than benefit in term of health, waste and Co2 emission…
In brief, to take the right decision, we need to think about all long-term advantages and issues. Define the rationales behind any choice and balance & prioritize all the criteria involved in packaging design.