corn in greenfield

Warum PLA nicht die Antwort sein kann

Kunststoff war und ist, insbesondere für Versand- und Lieferzwecke, bislang eines der beliebtesten, weil leichtesten Verpackungsmaterialien. Der dabei anfallende Kunststoffabfall ist heutzutage jedoch der Hauptanlass für Bedenken. Als eine erneuerbare Rohstoffquelle wurde schließlich PLA eingeführt, das nach dessen Verwendung für Verpackungszwecke als Dünger verwendet werden kann. Diese neue und trendige Alternative zu fossilen Kunststoffen auf biologischer Basis hört sich jedoch zu gut um, um wahr zu sein. Wie lauten somit die Fakten?

Was ist PLA?

PLA (Polylactid) ist ein Kunststoff, der zu 100 % auf biologischer Basis beruht. Dieser Kunststoff wird aus fermentierter pflanzlicher Stärke (oftmals Maisstärke) gewonnen und verspricht, nicht nur frei von Giftstoffen, sondern auch CO₂-neutral zu sein. Auf Grundlage dieses Versprechens wird es als ernsthafte Alternative zu herkömmlichen Kunststoffen betrachtet und gewinnt rasant an Beliebtheit.

Beim PLA-Produktionsprozess müssen für die Gewinnung der fermentierten pflanzlichen Stärke zuerst jedoch bestimmte „Kunststoff-Feldfrüchte“ kultiviert werden. Diese Feldfrüchte werden anschließend in die gewünschten Chemikalien umgewandelt, wobei auch CO₂-Emissionen anfallen.

Wie wird PLA entsorgt?

Während des Zersetzungsprozesses zerfällt PLA in Milchsäure, einem natürlichen Bestandteil von Milch. Um jedoch Gewissheit zu haben, ob diese Alternative tatsächlich kompostierbar ist, muss es eine dafür erforderliche Zertifizierung besitzen. Eine Zertifizierung nach EN 13432 ist die einzige Möglichkeit, um festzustellen, ob das Verpackungsmaterial wirklich für die Kompostierung geeignet ist.

Gemäß dieser Europäischen Norm dürfen nach einer Zersetzungszeit von 12 Wochen und anschließender Absiebung des kompostierbaren Materials durch ein Sieb mit 2 mm Maschenweite nicht mehr als 10 % Rückstände der Originalmasse verbleiben. Der Nachteil dieses Prozesses ist der gleiche wie bei anderen biologisch abbaubaren Materialien: Für den Zersetzungsprozess ist nämlich eine spezifisch kontrollierte Umgebung mit einer Temperatur von 58 °C erforderlich. Da die meisten Länder nicht über die dafür geeigneten Kompostierungsanlagen verfügen, erweist sich die korrekte Entsorgung von PLA-Kunststoffen als recht schwierig.

Die größte Bedrohung, die hiermit verbunden ist, entsteht bei der Entsorgung des PLA in Deponien ohne den für den Zersetzungsprozess so wichtigen Sauerstoff. Bei der Zersetzung von PLA in einer Deponie unter Sauerstoffabschluss kann nämlich Methan entstehen. Dieses Gas ist jedoch um das 38-Fache schädlicher als CO₂! PLA ist somit nur dann unschädlich, wenn es korrekt entsorgt wird.

PLA als Schutzverpackung

PLA fällt nur dann in die Kategorie der biologisch abbaubaren Kunststoffe, wenn es die entsprechende europäische Zertifizierung besitzt. Doch selbst als vollständig kompostierbares Material besitzt PLA als Verpackungsmaterial noch viele weitere Nachteile. Kompostierbarer Kunststoff besitzt eine nur begrenzte Lagerfähigkeit, wodurch die Lieferkette einer Frist unterworfen ist. Darüber hinaus ist PLA nicht für alle Anwendungen geeignet, da es sich sehr schnell zu zersetzen beginnt, wenn es nass wird.

Die fermentierte pflanzliche Stärke wird außerdem oftmals aus Mais oder Zuckerrohr hergestellt, beides wichtige Nahrungspflanzen. Das rapide Wachstum der Weltbevölkerung geht Hand in Hand mit einer steigenden Nachfrage nach Mais für eine nahrungsunabhängige Nutzung. Dies führt zu einem Anstieg des Weltmarktpreises für Mais. Während PLA eine Lösung für die mit Kunststoffabfällen verbundenen Problemen sein kann, trägt es gleichzeitig zu einem Mangel an Nahrungsmitteln in den weniger reichen Gebieten der Welt bei. Ist es somit eine echte Lösung, wenn durch das Lösen eines Problems ein anderes verschlimmert wird?

Kurze Zusammenfassung über alles, was man über PLA-Kunststoffe wissen muss

Auf den ersten Blick bietet PLA viele Vorteile, wie etwa dessen Kreislaufeigenschaften, die geringen Herstellungskosten und die potenziell nicht-toxischen Merkmale. Trotzdem müssen die Pros und Contras eines Gebrauchs von PLA sorgfältig abgewogen werden, bevor in einen nur kurzfristigen Umweltnutzen investiert wird. Langfristig sind nämlich in vielen Ländern noch weitere Investitionen in die industrielle Kompostierungsinfrastruktur erforderlich. PLA birgt außerdem die mit einem empfindlichen Verpackungsmaterial verbundenen Risiken und kann oftmals Ihre wertvollen Produkte nicht schützen.

FP International

Wir von FP International möchten das schützen, was Ihnen und uns am wertvollsten ist. Wir bieten eine breite Palette an Luftkissen- und Verpackungssystemen an, die zu 100 % recycelbar sind und Ihre Produkte sicher bei Transport und Lagerung schützen. Die Grundsätze bei der Entwicklung und Herstellung unserer Verpackungsmaterialien lauten maximaler Schutz bei nur minimalen Material– und Handhabungskosten. Hierfür setzen wir auf den intelligenten Einsatz von Luft, die 99 % unserer Schutzverpackungen ausmacht. Das restliche 1 % an Material ist vollständig wiederverwertbar.

Möchten Sie mehr erfahren? Besuchen Sie unsere Website unter www.fp-sustainability.eu

Greenwashing und die Konsequenzen

Konsumenten zeigen ein zunehmendes Bewusstsein, was die Konsequenzen des immensen Verbrauchs an Verpackungsmaterialien und Kunststoffen anbetrifft, und fragen vermehrt nach „grünen“ Alternativen. Die Schlagworte lauten „biologisch abbaubar“, „nachhaltig“ und „umweltfreundlich“. Sie werden immer häufiger von Unternehmen benutzt, um auf diese Anforderungen der Kunden einzugehen. Doch Unternehmen geben sich oftmals grüner als sie in Wirklichkeit sind.

Was genau ist Greenwashing?

Die Vorteile einer nachhaltig ausgerichteten Verpackung sind ein wichtiges und relevantes Thema. Die Konsumenten sind sich immer mehr über ihren aktuellen Ressourcenverbrauch bewusst, sie gehen aktiver denn je beim Abfallrecycling vor und tendieren immer mehr zum Gebrauch von umweltfreundlichen Produkten. Ein Greenwashing jedoch nutzt die guten Absichten der Konsumenten und deren Anstrengungen aus und greift ihnen nur in die Tasche.

Der Begriff „Greenwashing“ leitet sich vom „Whitewashing“ (für schönfärben, sich reinwaschen) ab und trifft auf Unternehmen zu, die sich umweltfreundlicher und sozial verantwortlicher geben als sie tatsächlich sind. Diese Ansprüche stellen sich oftmals nur als Makulatur heraus, um damit den Umsatz zu steigern.

Wie erkennt man ein Greenwashing?

Um nicht selber auf ein Greenwashing hereinzufallen, muss man sich kritisch mit den dabei verwendeten Begriffen vertraut machen. Diese erkennt man häufig wie folgt:

1. Undeutlich und allgemein formulierte Ansprüche

Solche Aussagen wie „biologisch abbaubarer Kunststoff“ oder „25 % natürlicher“ sind undeutlich und unscharf formulierte Phrasen. Diese nur undeutlich formulierten Ansprüche hinterlassen eine Lücke, die der Konsument selbst interpretieren darf. Denn hierbei werden weder Anhaltspunkte für einen Vergleich noch die Vorteile genannt, die sich durch die angeblich biologisch abbaubaren Kunststoffe ergeben. Seien Sie somit kritisch gegenüber Ansprüchen, die unausgegoren, undeutlich oder zu allgemein daherkommen.

2. Überprüfen Sie die Fakten

Bei derart mehrdeutigen Ansprüchen wie „biologisch abbaubar“ oder „Kunststoffe auf biologischer Basis“ sollte der Konsument sich mit den dahinterstehenden Fakten vertraut machen, warum etwas biologisch abbaubar ist, wie viel Prozent an biologischen Grundstoffen enthalten ist und von welcher Herkunft diese sind.

Sie sollten unbedingt überprüfen, was die Verpackung tatsächlich biologisch abbaubar macht, denn Materialien auf biologischer Basis oder auf Oxo-Basis unterscheiden sich ganz deutlich. Bei oxo-abbaubaren Kunststoffen handelt es sich nicht um Biokunststoffe.

Oxo-abbaubare Kunststoffe enthalten ein chemisches Additiv, das die Abbaubarkeit unter spezifischen Bedingungen fördert. Zu diesen tragen eine hohe Exposition gegenüber UV-Strahlung und viel Wärme (mind. 50 °C) bei. Dabei ist auch die Information wichtig, zu wieviel Prozent der Kunststoff abgebaut wird, da auch dies von dessen Exposition gegenüber den genannten Umweltfaktoren abhängt. Oxo-abbaubare Kunststoffe werden zumeist zu Mikroplastik abgebaut, der sogar noch schädlicher für die Umwelt ist. Die Additive wiederum erschweren das Recyceln der Kunststoffe. Deswegen ist ein Kunststoff entweder „oxo-abbaubar“ oder recycelbar, kann aber nicht beides gleichzeitig sein. Im Kontext der EU-Kunststoffstrategie wurde ein Prozess zur Einschränkung von oxo-abbaubaren Kunststoffen in der Europäischen Union gestartet. Weitere Informationen hierzu enthält der im Link enthaltene Bericht der Europäischen Kommission.

Bio-Kunststoffe werden aus Rohstoffen auf biologischer Basis hergestellt. Doch dadurch sind diese Kunststoffe nicht automatisch biologisch abbaubar. Bio-Kunststoffe können aus biologischen Materialien auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen gewonnen werden. Einige dieser Kunststoffe lassen sich kompostieren – entweder als Hauskompost oder im Rahmen einer Industriekompostierung. All diese Spezifikationen müssen jedoch angegeben werden. Stehen keine detaillierten Informationen zur Verfügung, handelt es sich um ein Greenwashing.

3. Zertifizierungen durch Drittparteien

Viele Unternehmen stellen für die Umweltfreundlichkeit ihrer Produkte eigene Standards auf. Um nicht auf ein Greenwashing hereinzufallen, sollten Sie hier auf eine Zertifizierung durch Drittparteien achten. Diese Zertifizierungen stammen von renommierten Zertifizierungsorganisationen und dürfen nur dann angegeben werden, wenn ein Produkt die Richtlinien und Bestimmungen der EU erfüllt und entsprechend getestet wurde. Die europäischen Normen EN13427, EN13432, die Bezeichnungen „Hauskompost“ oder „Industriekompostierung“ sind nur einige Beispiele für derartige Zertifizierungen in der EU.

FP International

Wichtigste Schlussfolgerung aus unserer Unterscheidung ist, dass ein Anspruch auf Umweltfreundlichkeit nicht automatisch bedeutet, dass ein Produkt auch tatsächlich umweltfreundlich ist. Der Begriff „biologisch abbaubare Kunststoffe“ ist nur das aktuellste Beispiel für ein Greenwashing, da hier mehr versprochen als eingehalten wird.

Wir von FP International möchten das schützen, was Ihnen und uns am wertvollsten ist. Wir bieten nicht nur innovative und maßgeschneiderte Schutzverpackungslösungen an, sondern setzen dabei konsequent auf das Vermeiden, Wiederverwenden und Recyceln der dabei eingesetzten Materialien, getreu dem Motto „Weniger ist mehr“. Darüber hinaus sind wir der einzige Hersteller von Luftkissen, der vollständig die Europarichtlinie 94/62/EG sowie die Europanorm EN 13427 über Verpackungen und Verpackungsabfälle erfüllt. Unsere Luftkissenprodukte sind aus zu 100 % recycelbarem PE-Material hergestellt und schützen Ihre Produkte mit 99 % Luft.

Weitere Informationen erhalten Sie unter www.fp-sustainability.eu

Waste Reduction: The Key to Sustainability?

Reduce, reuse, recycle—each a core tenet of sustainability, right? While immense emphasis is typically placed on the recycling component—and about half as often, the reusing component—little attention is paid to reduction.

Reduction,  the most neglected of the three R’s, is the real key to sustainability – especially in terms of reduction of damage. Reducing damage to products is not only imperative to customer experience, but to sustainability as well. Ken Chrisman, President of Product Care at Sealed Air, wrote recently that reducing damage is the most impactful thing you can do to become a more sustainable company.

No amount of recyclable, biodegradable, or reusable packaging can counteract the increased carbon footprint of a damaged item. Think about it: Damaged items are sent back on a truck or back on a plane to return to their origin point. Damaged items must be rebuilt, repaired, restocked, rehandled, or worse –  relegated to the landfill. Replacement items must then be re-shipped, making another journey through the supply chain, in another box filled with packing materials that will have to be reused, recycled, or disposed of.

To offer a real-world example, according to data publicly shared by Apple, manufacturing and shipping a single laptop computer creates approximately 460 kilograms of CO2 emissions. If that item is damaged in transit and sent back to be rebuilt, repaired, and reshipped, the number of emissions increases anywhere from 150 to another 200 kilograms. That is an increase of 43% for a single damaged computer!

computer shipment forecast

Shipment forecast of laptops, desktop PCs and tablets worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (in millions of units) | Image source: Statista

For context, there were approximately 156 million laptops shipped worldwide in 2016 alone, not including desktop computers or tablets (when those are added in, the number approaches 500 million). If just 1% of that number were to be damaged in transit and returned, an additional 234 million kilograms of CO2 emissions could be added to the atmosphere annually.

As one can imagine, items damaged in transit have a massive and costly impact on companies’ abilities to make sustainable choices. With ecommerce booming, there are more items in transit now than ever before. Virtually anything can be bought online. A bit of typing, a few clicks, and a few days later almost any item you can think of might be waiting on your doorstep.

Packaging World offers a unique example of this phenomenon: online grocery.

Chances are you have seen their trucks or even used these services yourself (especially if you live in a major city or if travel by car is not an option). Think Peapod, FreshDirect, Instacart, and now, of course, Whole Foods, who famously entered the game through their purchase by Amazon in 2017. Your favorite grocery store probably has their own version; Harris Teeter, Safeway, and even Walmart now offer online grocery shopping.

Online grocery shopping (or e-grocery) can be broken into three models: at-home delivery, click and collect, and personal shoppers. With at-home delivery, online-only companies like Peapod and FreshDirect deliver a full range of groceries to the consumer’s door. For unattended deliveries—where the consumer is not at home at the time of delivery—products are often packed in insulated plastic totes, and frozen goods are packed with dry ice. The totes are then picked up on the next delivery, or consumers can schedule a pickup time.

No matter the product or model by which it is received, online shopping means packaging—lots and lots of packaging—and product protection is necessary to reduce damage and mitigate waste. The consequences of damaged products in both dollars and the effect on brand reputation, compares to Chrisman’s energy consumption and sustainability toll: “The cost of replacing a destroyed item can be up to 17 times the cost of shipping, and negative website reviews resulting from the destruction of an item can take months to counterbalance with positive ones.”

A recent Packaging World article cites a presentation from The Packaging Conference 2016 in which the results of a study on the effect a damaged product has on consumer preferences were shared. According to the study, 82% of those surveyed had received a package containing a damaged item in the past. When asked how this influenced the likelihood of them purchasing from that supplier again, 58% reported that they would be “Somewhat unlikely” to purchase from that retailer again, and 15% said they would be “Extremely unlikely.”

It is clear that damage woes can wreak havoc on more than the environment, but the sustainability imperative is this: companies must minimize damage on the first try through the use of well-engineered packaging materials. At FP International, sustainability is a primary component of our company and our mission – so if well-engineered packaging materials can also be made reusable, recyclable, and responsible, so much the better. We agree with Chrisman: “Performance and sustainability are not and should not be mutually exclusive.”

Packaging for Protection

The explosive growth of ecommerce means a lot of fragile, bulky, and oddly-shaped items are now being put through a delivery chain that wasn’t designed to handle them, via packaging solutions that weren’t designed to fit them. Keeping the reduction of damage in mind, what is the solution for these hard to ship objects?

Brand owners have always faced challenges when it comes to selecting packaging that provides the best mix of functionality and aesthetics. In the new era of ecommerce, companies are forced to rethink the way they package their products. Packaging must now provide sufficient product protection through an unpredictable postal system while at the same time delivering a positive brand experience.

Kevon Hills, Vice President of Research at StellaService, a New York City-based company that gauges services provided by online retailers, calls packaging a make-or-break factor in customer satisfaction in the Packaging World article. The company conducted a study in 2014, that highlighted the importance of using appropriately-sized packaging for each product. To rate retailers’ proficiency at package fit, StellaService analysts scored each ecommerce order on a scale of one to three, with one being “poor and extremely wasteful” and three being “excellent and highly efficient.”

“[A] proper package fit leaves a better impression with shoppers, saves retailers money on shipping costs, and reduces the possibility of damaged products,” Hills said. “You would be surprised to learn how many packages we get where perhaps the order is a thumb drive, and it comes in [a] box that could probably fit a microwave.”

Most of us can relate to this. After all, who hasn’t received a comically large box with one tiny item bouncing around inside it?

Frustration-Free with Amazon

A notorious offender of sending large boxes for small deliveries is Amazon, but they’re working on it. The company notes that scaling back on the mismatched sizing of products and their packaging is a priority. Now, Amazon is committed to the adoption of right-sized, minimal packaging that protects against damage and is made from environmentally responsible materials. They’re also working on initiatives to further reduce packaging waste while protecting orders for customers.

One of those initiatives is the Amazon Packaging Certification program, which includes their “Frustration-Free Packaging.” According to the company’s Customer Service portal, Amazon Certified Frustration-Free Packaging is recyclable and comes without excess packaging materials. The product inside is the same, and everything is included in the Certified Frustration-Free Packaging that would be in the original manufacturer’s packaging.

In 2016, Amazon’s Packaging Certification program and Frustration-Free Packaging collectively eliminated nearly 83 million corrugated boxes. As of this article’s publication date, more than 1.1 million items on Amazon.com are available in certified packaging.

Sustainable and Safe

Sustainability and conservation of materials are not without their challenges. Packaging has had to change to incorporate ecommerce. For example, packaging designed to stand out on a retail shelf is often oversized, with expensive, flashy design aesthetics and redundant features to prevent theft. These packaging models are not necessarily capable of surviving their journey to the customer. Frequently, these features can lead to suboptimal packaging for online distribution.

It’s time now to reimagine packaging that enables companies to thrive in an ecommerce business model. Online retail (as opposed to traditional retail) provides distinct and powerful enablers to invent packaging that pleases customers, reduces waste, and minimizes cost throughout the supply chain.

Sustainability provides a critical catalyst for challenging norms and promoting systemic change in packaging. But what does that change look like?

Up and Coming Ideas

Packaging Digest rounded up five up-and-coming packaging trends to look for in 2018.

First on the list is, unsurprisingly, the very same program Amazon touted: a frustration-free customer packaging experience.

Packaging must be able to perform its basic function and should be optimized to house products safely and securely. Since Amazon represents the pinnacle of ecommerce, it comes as no surprise that its internal packaging protocols are also worthy of note. (Take a look at Amazon’s frustration-free packaging homepage for more advice and tips for industry professionals and customers alike).

Next up: Unique design features. Packaging designs that are unique can elevate a brand in the eyes of the consumer. Whether functional or purely decorative, the design makes the process of receiving a package that much more exciting. Everyone enjoys getting packages in the mail, and that delight is only compounded when the packaging design itself elicits joy.

A great example of this trend is a packaging campaign by Absolut Vodka. Absolut teamed up with app makers Shazam to create a wealth of creative content, supplying smartphone customers with exclusive drink recipes and social media content. The campaign utilized augmented reality to create a highly immersive user experience for customers – ultimately making the brand more memorable.

Similar to the incorporation of tech used in the Absolut campaign, item three on Packaging Digest’s list is Big Data design optimization. Optimizing packaging infrastructure with ecommerce storage in mind could help with organization and efficiency in large fulfillment warehouses, and the addition of barcodes quickens the process of picking and packing from shelves.

Packaging analytics data can also be gathered to increase efficiency at all stages of packaging development, from design to fulfillment. Data can be used to analyze unit measurements on a large scale, pinpoint inefficiencies in the manufacturing process, and gather audience feedback signals.

Speaking of audience feedback, personalized packaging is the fourth trend to watch for this year. Good packaging should raise levels of customer satisfaction, enhancing the buying experience and bridging the gap between online and traditional retail shopping. Luxury brands have been providing premium packaging options for decades, but thanks to personalization software developments in the last few years, this experience can now be integrated in an affordable way for businesses of all sizes and types.

One example ties together the tech and data pieces: packing slips, invoices, and receipts can now be auto-generated with customer personalization through use of apps. This simulates a closer relationship between consumer and producer, ultimately making the consumer feel more affection and, in turn, loyalty, to the company who’s getting its packaging game right.

Finally, we come back to the real focus of this article: sustainability. Currently, consumer demand for environmentally friendly packaging is poised to expand to any and all types of ecommerce products. Companies that choose to explore recycled material options or redesign packages to fit products as snugly and securely as possible in sustainable and slim-lined packaging are most appealing. When considering the (sometimes short) lifespan of a product, providing reusable packaging gives brands the opportunity to have their products showcased in a user’s home a long time after the product itself has been consumed.

We at FP International suspect 2018 will be a big year for packaging innovations in the arena of sustainability – and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. What do you hope to see in packaging innovation this year?

The Benefits of Sustainable Packaging

Cost and a lack of scalable innovations are barriers for sustainable business strategies, though there are many benefits to minimizing your footprint that exceed the expense. Thinking outside the box when it comes to your company’s packaging and shipping processes can keep your budget in the black while keeping the rest of the world green.

The packaging industry is one of connections and community. We touch millions of lives on a daily basis, protecting your goods as they move from place to place. Whenever a product is ordered, or a package sent, a packaging company is put to work. It’s a huge responsibility to protect goods from the ever-present dangers of bumpy roads and fumbling hands, but the health of consumers must be protected as well.

Changing to a sustainable business model might seem like a burdensome chore, especially as it becomes increasingly mandated by law. However, we choose to see sustainable packaging as less of an obligation, and more of an opportunity. Our industry knows that many of our customers are concerned with keeping the world healthy. We believe taking the time to make our business environmentally friendly will yield benefits that far outweigh the cost.

In an interview with Packaging Digest, Adam Gendell, Associate Director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), stated that sustainable packaging companies “must always operate with a firm understanding of what the consumers expect from brands, and in 2017, a brand is expected to operate with a compelling sustainability story.”

At FP International, we don’t take our commitment to human well-being lightly. It’s important to us that we remain honest stewards of consumer health. The best way we can do that is by steadily improving the way we operate to use less resources, lowering our environmental footprint and facilitating recycling in the process.

The Cost of Doing Business

Plastic is one of the many problems our world currently faces. Over 8 million tons of it are floating offshore, and immediate steps need to be taken to avoid adding more to it. By sourcing our loosefill and air cushions from recycled, sustainable material, we’ve taken the first of many steps toward fulfilling that goal.

The plastic problem is matched by the threat we face from carbon emissions. Plastic production creates a lot of harmful gases. The only ways to reduce them are to use less or repurpose what’s already here. Unfortunately, that makes many turn their head toward paper. In reality, have an even larger negative environmental impact. In order to reduce our carbon emissions, we’ve phased out the production of ozone-depleting chemicals. On a wider positive note, carbon emissions released into the atmosphere had stalled as of 2014, meaning that widespread efforts to tackle this issue are working.

By using all recyclable materials in the goods you manufacture, you acknowledge costs that might not show up on a financial ledger. Continuing to consume resources without recycling at our current rate will result in environmental costs that will need to be paid in the future. We’re all better served by fixing the issue step-by-step, so that future generations don’t face a life-threatening, insurmountable situation.

Making Haste, Not Waste

The primary goal of any packaging company is to protect your goods from damage. However, it’s also imperative that goods are moved quickly and efficiently. Making strong products doesn’t have to mean making them heavy or cumbersome. Our air cushions are extremely thin and light, but they’re even more durable than they were decades ago. The challenge is finding the right balance between durability and sustainability.

One way packaging companies accomplish this is by reducing the volume and dimensions of the packaging itself. This not only reduces the amount of resources needed to make packaging, it also means shipping companies can send more items in fewer vehicles.

Companies that shift to a dimensional weight-based pricing system also need fewer vehicles to transport their goods. Using package volume rather than traditional weight to predict space needed is much more accurate. If your business ships goods, you can use this system to tremendous advantage by downsizing your packaging. For example, a company that ships clothing could use bubble mailers instead of bulky boxes.

The changes don’t have to be drastic. It can be as simple as adapting consciously to the introduction of a new, smaller product. Instead of using standard boxes and adding more cushioning to accommodate the product, use smaller boxes with less void. Small changes like this are important and add up to a great deal of good.

What Goes Around Comes Around

In packaging, there are two paths to sustainability. The first, and most common, is linear. A linear model involves using materials that have measurably less impact on the environment in the short term, even if they’re not recyclable. We’ve become very efficient at producing petroleum-based packaging materials in a way that uses the bare minimum. This route can both save a packaging company money and reduce environmental impact in an immediate way. If a business continually strives to use the lightest packaging available, they’re engaging in linear business practices.

sustainable paths

Image source: Packaging Digest

The other, more responsible method, as seen in the graphic above, is cyclical. By choosing to invest in a cyclical packaging philosophy, businesses make a direct effort to use packaging that is highly recyclable and long-term sustainable. Raw materials used in the beginning of production are sourced from those at the end.

The downside to the cyclical track is that as the technology behind recyclable and biodegradable plastics is fairly new. Our systems for reclaiming these materials aren’t as efficient as using cheaper materials or just making new packaging.

Packaging Digest describes the difficulty:

“Our petroleum-based packaging infrastructure is both well-established and highly efficient, while our material recovery infrastructure has been slow to catch up, and infrastructure surrounding non-traditional packaging materials (such as biopolymers) is in its infancy. This can mean that, today, more non-renewable fossil resources might be required to produce recyclable or biobased polymer packaging than to produce the traditional petroleum-based alternatives. We know we cannot rely indefinitely on the current system despite its relative efficiency, as this efficiency depends on a finite resource. However, choosing recyclable or biobased polymers has the potential to increase our fossil fuel burden in the short run.”

No matter which path you choose, sustainability is no longer a niche market. The number of consumers aggressively looking for Earth-first ideals in the products they buy is enormous. When you show that you’re willing to listen and do your part, customers will respond in kind.

Revamping your packaging to be environmentally friendly can keep your wallet as green as the trees outside. Not only will you find more efficient processes, but it will boost your reputation as a company that is more concerned with preservation than profit. Though the initial investment might sting, you can rest easy knowing that you are ensuring the longevity of your business and our planet at the same time. After all, if you intend to build something, why not build it to last?

From Waste to Winner: The Reclaimed Plastics Economy

Plastic waste remains one of the largest global ecological issues, but earth-friendly entrepreneurs are increasing demand for reclaimed plastic to give it new life beyond the landfill..

The production of plastic requires complex methods and costly equipment. It is mind-boggling to think that so much time, energy, and money is spent on something that ends up doing more harm than good by polluting the ocean and filling up landfills.

Every year, 8 million tons of plastic waste finds its way to the ocean. That is the equivalent of dumping the contents of a garbage truck into the sea every minute of every day. This rate is set to double by 2030 if our habits do not change. Los Angeles alone contributes five tons of plastic fragments into the Pacific Ocean daily, equaling roughly 1,825 tons annually. These stats do not even include the tons of plastic waste taking up precious space in landfills.

So, why are plastics not more widely recycled? Like most things, it comes down to cost. Recycling machines are expensive, and plastic is a fickle material. Impure plastic can easily damage or slow down machinery, making increased maintenance or costly replacement necessary. The cost, however, is not just derived from the machines themselves. Recycled plastic also costs ten times more than virgin plastic because it is much more difficult to make. One piece of lesser quality in a batch of recycled plastic can render the entire cycle unusable, wasting money, time, and driving up the price of the material.

In turn, businesses and customers who choose to use or purchase goods made from recycled plastic spend a lot of money to do so. Regardless of the extra cost, recycled and reclaimed plastic is in high demand for companies and customers who care deeply about the environment. Organizations and companies like Precious Plastic, the Plastic Bank, VolkerWessels, and ByFusion are working actively to turn plastic waste into a commercially viable, reusable material.

People-Powered Solutions

Dave Hakkens, a pioneer in reclaimed plastics, created an open source suite of machines designed to turn plastic waste into a reusable resource. Precious Plastics allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to access, download, and build devices capable of converting plastic waste into literally anything. A person can become a self-sufficient entrepreneur of upcycled plastic goods, not unlike a carpenter or sculptor; the only difference is that instead of wood or clay, your medium of choice is… well… plastic.

What you create is limited only by your imagination and the supply of plastic garbage you find laying around. Even the machines — whose open-source designs are available for free on the Precious Plastics website — are customizable to your needs. By offering a solution to the problem of plastic waste, Hakkens has empowered anyone and everyone to assist in the recycling of plastic in a way that also benefits the recyclers financially.

The Plastic Bank is another organization treating plastic as a material rather than a waste product. The Plastic Bank brought its concept of “Social Plastic” to Port Au Prince, Haiti to assist struggling residents and improve infrastructure after recent hurricanes. 30 recycling markets set up around the city allow residents to collect and turn in plastic in exchange for credits which they can then claim for “anything from a sustainable stove to a solar-powered phone charger.” What’s interesting here is that this system changes the perception of plastic from trash into a monetary unit, using humanity’s natural inclination to increase its wealth to also increase the recycling effort. For this system to work in the long term, there must be demand for reclaimed plastic as a raw material — a trend that seems to be gaining momentum.

Infrastructural Solutions

VolkerWessels and ByFusion are two companies looking to capitalize on recycled plastics, creating prototypes that could utilize this resource on an enormous scale.

VolkerWessels’ PlasticRoad would use reclaimed plastic as an alternative to asphalt to pave roads. Using plastic waste would minimize the carbon emissions traditionally associated with the construction, installation, and maintenance of conventional roads, as well as promote the use of recycled plastic as a raw material.

Plastic road segments would arrive prefabricated to the installation site. Then, workers need only dig a trough, place the road segments, and join them together. Should PlasticRoad become the new standard for road building, construction time could be reduced from months (or years on extensive projects) to mere weeks.

These roads are still undergoing testing before being released into the market, but VolkerWessels already has a partner on board. The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, home to the world’s most technologically advanced port, will likely become a test city for VolkerWessels’ PlasticRoad. Jaap Peters, a member of the Rotterdam City Council Engineering Bureau, explains the natural partnership: “We’re very positive towards the development around PlasticRoad. Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptations in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.”

So far VolkerWessels has not tested their product in the real world, but the prototypes show promise of a multitude of benefits compared to traditional roads. Plastic is more resilient to chemical corrosion, meaning less maintenance and repairs are needed over the course of a road segment’s life. They also last about three times as long and can withstand more extreme temperatures than asphalt roads. The road’s hollow core makes it easier to install cables or pipelines below and allows for better drainage, making them virtually flood-proof.

However, roads are not the only thing that recycled plastic can build. ByFusion, a New York-based startup with a mission to “reshape the future of plastic,” has created RePlast bricks, an eco-friendly building material made from recycled plastic. The bricks range from 8 to 27 pounds, have better thermal and sound insulation than conventional concrete, and don’t require glue or adhesive to use – snapping together similarly to LEGOs.

The recycling process developed by ByFusion to make the bricks allows for the use of all types of commercial plastics, even those usually considered too toxic or too costly to process. The process is also 100% carbon neutral, non-toxic, and boasts 95% lower greenhouse gas emissions than mixing conventional concrete. Machines to turn the raw plastic waste into bricks are deployed directly to the job site to make construction projects of any scale easy to complete.

Recycled Plastic – The Material of the Future?

Is recycled plastic the new concrete, the new asphalt, or the new clay? That depends entirely on us. As demand for these products grows alongside the need to reduce the plastic waste already floating around, more money can be spent to improve and refine the recycling process – ultimately lowering the cost of production. It may seem strange that using plastic could be the greenest possibility in a world that generally considers the material an environmental enemy.

Embracing and utilizing recycled plastic as a raw material will not only help to advance technology, but could also act as a catalyst to heal the world from human wastefulness. Where our ancestors once mined for precious metals, the generations of this millennium might find their riches by “mining” the plastic from the oceans and landfills. These are just four examples, but I wonder what interesting treasures other green-minded entrepreneurs will make from all this trash.