By: Berlin Packaging Specialist
Date: October 28, 2019
There are many false stereotypes about sustainable packaging. Plastics, for example, are one of the most environmentally friendly methods to package and build parts today. I know many people look with skepticism and a raised brow when it comes to plastics being eco-friendly packaging, but those people would be very surprised to find how green plastic packages really are.
Plastic Versus Paperboard
Let me take a step back -- what’s the biggest stereotype about green packaging that people have? When you ask someone what they think a green package would be, many respond with “Paperboard, it’s basically a tree!” What most people don’t think about is the entire life of the package; from before they pick it up at the shelf to where it goes after they throw it out.
To make bright colors and smooth logos on paperboard, a lot of heat and bleach is used to create and clean the surface. This leads to smoke and coal in the atmosphere put off by the energy, and bleach runoff in rivers and lakes. Paperboard packages, like those found in juice boxes and shelf-ready displays, are much weaker than plastic ones, which means on average they are 25% heavier than their plastic equivalents. And the graves of these paper packages are not environmentally responsible either. Because of bleaching, these products cannot be recycled, so they are shipped into landfills where they rot, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere.
Plastic Packaging Recycling
But with all of these problems, plastics have to be worse, right?
Not necessarily. Recycling streams for plastics have created an easy and convenient way for packaging to work with modern day systems, minimizing their carbon footprint. The most common plastics, like PP, HDPE, and PET, are able to be recycled and reused for all new purposes. The recycling plants can now quickly and accurately separate plastics, melt them with great efficiency, and send the pellets back to manufacturers to create new products.
Toys and props, such as those used during classroom lectures, are made today with recycled HDPE formerly found in milk and juice bottles. PET, the plastic used in water and soda bottles, is recycled to form helmets and keyboards. The PP caps that we use on our bottles are reused to create other packaging tools like crates and cases. And, on top of all that, the bottles that don’t make it into the recycling stream stay inert in landfills, avoiding damage to the ozone layer.
Sustainability is a complex topic, and there are many nuances. Beware of stereotypes. Tap experts to help you thread the needle to find the best solution to fit your goals. We have a great white paper on "Embracing Sustainability: A Framework for Green Packaging" if you’re looking for a strategy to use.