id you know that it takes 50 lbs. of glass, 6 lbs. of rigid PET, 3 lbs. of aluminum, but only 1.5 lbs. of plastic to package 60 lbs. of a liquid beverage? Furthermore, to transport packaging for equal amounts of product, it would take 26 truckloads of unfilled glass jars, yet only one truckload of unfilled plastic pouches. Just imagine all the cost savings for energy and fuel, as well as the reduced emissions and improved environmental impact with the use of flexible sustainable plastics packaging.
In a recent report on the New Plastics Economy developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey and Company, it was determined that the value of plastics packaging materials is estimated at $80B – $120B annually and 95% of that value is essentially lost to the economy annually. Furthermore, 32% of plastics packaging never reach proper collection or recycling systems. If current trends and change forces continue, by 2050 there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean waters! The size of the plastics industry, lack of plastic packaging collection systems, and potential concern about the lost economic value annually raise significant questions about how these issues are being addressed in the marketplace today.
The report on the New Plastics Economy offers a number of potential industry strategies to combat these issues and create positive change. Some of these proposed strategies include the: increase of reusable packaging; scale up of compostable packaging; increase of plastics upcycling; creation of ambitious, groundbreaking, collaborative innovative projects; improvement of after use collection systems; development of new innovative materials that reduce negative environmental impact; decoupling of plastics manufacture from fossil fuels; engagement of policy makers; and establishment of a scientific data base of information for further use. As can be seen, the creation of innovative new plastic materials that are compostable and have a safer environmental impact is of key importance.
Where then can some of the new innovative plastics materials and sustainable development strategies be found? – food packaging! Many times we focus on industrial sustainable development applications. However, significant improvements are being made where the consumer is first to see the change. Here are a few of these breakthroughs that were recognized at the 2016 Trashies Awards:
The goals of sustainable packaging are most challenging and sometimes viewed as tradeoffs. One example is with the use of renewable packaging raw materials, such as bio-based materials. On first pass these materials are more environmentally friendly, but on the other hand some of these products do not achieve high barrier resistance. However, significant improvement is being made on several fronts. The first is with plastic products that can be recycled, such as with PE bags and pouches; sourcing forest certified fiber and high recycled content fiber materials; and reducing the overall need for packaging materials by combining product functionality in use. Moreover, new breakthroughs in packaging technology will continue to be seen in innovative products on our store shelves.
Next time we purchase something at our favorite retail store, check out the label. Not only will we see the ingredients used, but also how to discard and potentially reuse the product after use.
All the best on your sustainability journey!