As climate change and environmental concerns become more widely publicised and understood, much of the world is looking for alternatives to plastic packaging in a bid to become a more sustainable society. A major catalyst for this change in attitude to environmental issues was the BBC series Blue Planet II, which pulled on the heartstrings of millions of people seeing marine litter swamping large swathes of the world’s oceans. As a result, consumers have become more aware of the products and packaging they are purchasing creating demand for new sustainable alternatives such as compostable packaging.
Around 12 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans each year. In terms of weight, this equates to a million London buses, a staggering statistic! Since its introduction in the late 19th century, only 9% of all plastic has ever been recycled, which begs the question, where is the other 91%? Simply put, the rest has either been buried in landfills, incinerated or left to litter the planet.
Why do we need packaging in the first place?
Packaging, and of course plastic packaging in particular, have been vilified in the media of late and it can be easy to say let’s get rid of packaging completely in response, but it is essential first to understand why it is fundamentally needed.
The packaging of a product is not only to make what’s inside look good; its purpose goes a lot deeper than that. A lot of the products we use and consume are imported from countries where long transportation times are required. Well designed packaging helps to protect and preserve the product against the rigours of the supply chain, ensuring the product will still be fresh, safe and undamaged when placed on a retail shelf. By eradicating packaging, which in essence is protecting the carbon utilised in producing goods in the first place, we risk escalating product waste which is far more harmful to the environment than the contribution of the packaging manufacturing in the first place.
Plastic packaging, the main source of concern today, is in the main produced from depleting fossil fuels (not good) but in general is extremely lightweight and therefore has a low carbon footprint. Plastics also offer a range of beneficial attributes to packaging that minimise waste – strength, robustness, barriers to gases and aromas – which enable the modern consumer to live a healthy and convenience driven lifestyle with little risk of health and safety issues from the food they consume. However, its clear that alternatives to plastics, despite its many benefits, are being sought and Parkside is a leader in the development of one such route – compostable packaging – packaging that utilises sustainable materials that will biodegrade quickly in soil and pose no harm to the surrounding environment.
What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable packaging?
The concept of biodegradable plastics was introduced in the 1980s, but this should not be confused with compostable packaging. Biodegradable plastics will break down in soil but leave harmful toxins in the surrounding area. Compostable packaging, which is a relatively new development in comparison, is made from plant-based materials that emit no harmful toxins during the degredation and composting process.
One issue facing consumers today is the difficulty in discerning which packaging is certified as compostable. Just as with recycling, it can be a problem determining which pieces of packaging can be recycled or composted and which cannot. At Parkside we believe appropriate testing and accreditation is key to combatting this issue.
All of Parkside’s compostable packaging has gained accreditation from TUV (formerly Vincotte) and contains the logo on the back of the packaging. The packs are also rigorously tested for eco-toxicity and a host of other criteria against EN 13432.
We have devoted over seven years of research into compostable packaging development and have managed to create a range of designs which are fully accredited and suitable for both home and industrial composting environments.
The Park2NatureTM range of compostable flexible packaging solutions meets a range of product needs for brands – from coffee to snack bar packaging – that are all designed to fully breakdown in home composting conditions within 26 weeks.
The acceptability of compostability
Society in general is taking steps to help combat plastic waste and litter. The introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge has resulted in 9 billion fewer plastic bags a year being used in the UK. The recent ‘latte levy’- a proposed 25p charge on disposable coffee cups – hopes to also cut waste and encourage recycling. In France, as part of the new packaging mandates implemented, all conventional plastic cups, cutlery, and plates have been outlawed; only home compostable alternatives are allowed. So not only is it evident that measures are being taken to help combat the issue, but we can also see compostable materials are emerging as the viable alternative.
According to research by GlobalData, consumers ranked recyclability as environmentally-friendly packaging’s most important factor, swiftly followed by compostable/biodegradable designs. Brands must therefore begin to ensure that their packaging materials are sustainable and in the near future recyclable or compostable to keep in touch with consumer demands. Brands such as Unilever have committed to ensure all their packaging is either reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and Iceland Foods vowed to be entirely plastic free by 2023.
From this, we can see that in the last few years consumer attitudes have pushed packaging in a more sustainable direction. With biodegradable plastic now being seen as a solution that doesn’t go far enough to combat waste, the emergence of compostable packaging has given the industry a new lease of life. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and more sustainability conscious when it comes to the products they are purchasing. More brands are developing compostable packaging for their products every week and this is only set to continue as we move forward in 2019.