Sustainable packaging – why rejecting all plastics is not the answer

The negative impacts of plastic pollution on the environment have become one of the most pressing societal concerns in the UK. But is switching out all plastics really the answer?

It must be acknowledged that plastic packaging has many functional purposes. One of these is keeping our food fresh and extending their shelf-lives. This is not just about being able to enjoy eating strawberries – keeping food fresh longer significantly reduces food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Research by Zero Waste Scotland has in fact revealed that food waste contributes more to climate change than plastic waste. Plastic’s physical properties, such as its light-weight and low volume, similarly help reduce carbon emissions, requiring less transportation and fuel.

Is biodegradable plastic all it’s cracked up to be? The appeal is understandable – once the packaging has been used, it can simply be chucked into your home compost, right? The answer is no.

In fact, biodegradable and compostable are not interchangeable terms. Biodegradable simply means that the material breaks down over a defined period of time, and there can be significant differences in the speed and nature of degradation between different biodegradable plastic materials. Biodegradable plastic also does not degrade in a natural environment, and neither is it recyclable, causing problems when wrongly sorted with non-biodegradable plastic in recycling streams. A material is considered compostable in the UK when it meets the BS EN13432 adopted by the British Standards Institution, so that it can compost under industrial conditions that are highly energy-intensive in specialised infrastructure. Some compostable material can be composted at home but not all. Likewise, some biodegradable plastic may meet the definition of compostable.

Being sustainable has no easy answers – it goes beyond simplistic measures, such as whether something is made of plastic or that it is biodegradable. That is why at PakTech, we opt for a holistic approach to sustainability and environmental stewardship. PakTech packaging handles are made from 100 per cent recycled HDPE, are reusable many times over and 100 per cent recyclable. Everything we do is guided by the principles of the circular economy and by using recycled plastic, we use 90 per cent less energy and 100 per cent less petroleum compared with using virgin plastic. Moreover, PakTech handles do not exacerbate the plastic pollution problem: by repurposing used goods such as HDPE milk jugs, they divert discarded plastic away from our land and oceans and back into production and productive use. The design and physical attributes of PakTech handles contribute to sustainable goals as well – their minimalist design and small volume, durability and water-resistance help to reduce overall packaging waste.

Going plastic-free is a short-sighted answer – just because you no longer see plastic packaging in your favourite shops does not mean plastic has disappeared from the earth. It just means it’s sitting around as waste or being incinerated, both of which are antithetical to the principle of circularity. Continuing to rely on single-use packaging, whatever material is being used, does not solve the issue of waste accumulation either.

We must continue to demand from companies and producers the highest sustainability standards, but this must be based on a broader framework and outlook that considers all aspects of environmental protection – and plastics still play an important role in that framework.


Paktech handles your sustainable packaging solutions.

© Business Reporter 2021

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