Plastic packaging: Sometimes the more sustainable solution
Plastic: Always an environmental sin?
Within just a few decades, plastic has become one of the most widely used materials in the packaging industry. But in the meantime, the image of the former miracle material has been seriously damaged. The problems for people and nature caused by the excessive use of plastic are too great.
It is therefore not surprising that the demand for green alternatives is becoming louder and louder. In practice, packaging made of paper and cardboard, and less frequently glass, often serves as a substitute. But they are not always the more ecologically compatible option. Whether and how sustainable packaging is depends on a wide range of factors.
In addition to the production process and the associated environmental impact, the most important aspects include, for example, reusability and the suitability of the material to protect a particular product - and in this respect, every material offers both - advantages and disadvantages.
A reusable PET beverage bottle can be refilled up to 25 times, a glass bottle even up to 50 times. Nevertheless, reusable plastic bottles can be more sustainable from an ecological point of view. One reason for this is the significantly lower weight, which has a positive effect on energy consumption during transport. In fact, reusable plastic bottles have the lowest carbon footprint of all common beverage packaging.
Another example is food packaging. In many cases, plastic packaging can be replaced by cardboard, for example, but more material is often needed in mass. Plastic is unlike paper, airtight and leak-proof, and protects some foods more effectively from spoilage. Composite materials that combine paper and plastic are therefore often used. While this reduces plastic consumption, it can make recycling more difficult, depending on the material mix.
Not all plastics are the same
What is usually referred to as plastic in our linguistic usage actually has many names. There are now more than 200 known types of plastic, each of them has special properties. The most commonly used types of plastic are:
- Polyethylene (PE),
- Polypropylen (PP),
- Polyvinylchlorid (PVC) and
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Types of plastic with good recyclability are in especially high demand today. These include plastics that are suitable as materials for reusable packaging, are biodegradable or can be 100 percent recycled. You will find an example of the last-mentioned in our product range. For example, our flat and stand-up pouches made of either white or transparent monofoil (made of PE-EVOH-PE) are fully recyclable.
Recycling is still considered the most environmentally friendly option for the disposal of plastic waste. This is because even compared to the extremely ecological sounding industrial composting, recycling offers some advantages, because composting of biodegradable plastic offers neither a material benefit nor an energetic value.
A look at the numbers from the Federal Environment Agency shows that a total of around 6.28 million tons of plastic waste was collected across Germany in 2019. This corresponds to an amount of 76 kg per person. Half of this is packaging waste.
According to the recycling balance sheet of the Society for Packaging Market Research (GVM), 99.6 percent of plastic packaging waste is now recycled. That is a record high. 55.2 percent of this flows into material recycling wich is reprocessed into packaging etc. - and the trend is also upward. Most of the rest is converted into energy, with a tiny proportion being landfilled or incinerated without energy recovery.
Conclusion: Plastics can also be sustainable
When you think of plastic, you often think of the negative impact it has on our environment. But plastic packaging also offers properties that can be used in an environmentally friendly way. Therefore, it often depends on our handling of plastic whether and how environmentally friendly the plastic packaging is and can be in the end.
That's why each and every one of us can make a contribution when it comes to sustainability. Representatives from industry and commerce, for example, can evaluate exactly what requirements their packaging actually has to meet and package their goods more sustainably accordingly.
End consumers, on the other hand, can send noticeable signals to the economy as a whole by attaching more importance to sustainable packaging when shopping, disposing of plastic waste carefully and returning it to the circular economy through recycling.