Which Packaging Materials Have The Best Environmental Credentials

As the world’s population continues to grow, so do issues relating to sustainability and environmental protection. As awareness of these topics grows, many people are beginning to look at ways of reducing their carbon footprints and be more conscientious consumers. In practical terms this means choosing services and products from responsible companies who are looking to make a positive impact.

This presents many challenges for companies, but there are also a plethora of opportunities available too. With there being so many strategies that companies can adopt to improve their environmental credentials, it is important for companies to make informed choices that will have a net-positive impact. This can mean anything from choosing to use a sustainable supplier or an eco friendly distributor, right the way through to including renewable materials in products. 

Choosing Responsible Packaging

One aspect that is often overlooked by companies and consumers is product packaging. Often the overlooked aspect of a product’s carbon footprinting, packaging can make a massive difference to environmental impacts. For example, plastic packaging and cardboard packaging both have positive and negative attributes. 

The plight of plastic packaging pollution is well documented. Issues with plastic products in our water systems are there for all to see, and even unseen plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade. Whilst these are not overly positive, it should be noted that plastic packaging performs a vital role in transporting, protecting and extending the shelf life of a wide range of products. Any potential environmental damage should be considered in the context of the benefits that plastic packaging can provide, such as reducing food waste by protecting food stuffs, for example.

Overview of Cardboard Packaging

The increased use of cardboard packaging has been promoted as a great thing for the environment and sustainable development. In some ways cardboard packaging is a great option because it can be easily recycled, it degrades under natural conditions and it can be reused quite easily, depending on the type of cardboard and the shape of the packaging. However, there are still a wide range of environmental impacts associated with the production, transportation and disposal of cardboard.

Many companies have looked at replacing small, lightweight shrinkwrap film with a single ply cardboard cover. Using drinks multipacks for example, swapping the small amount of shrinkwrap for a cardboard box significantly increases the weight of product packaging. This means it will take more carbon to transport the packaging and the packaged product. Furthermore, if virgin cardboard packaging is made from non-recycled materials then it actually has a higher carbon footprint than many plastic alternatives. 

Even if packaging is made from recycled cardboard, there is also a great deal of energy required to process spent material and produce recycled cardboard too. With things like this in mind, the choice to use cardboard could actually hinder a company’s sustainability objectives. 

The Overview of Shrinkwrap Packaging

Shrink films have had a bad wrap for quite some time. It is typically thought of as being really hard to dispose of and did not have the same renewable qualities as cardboard. Now, whilst some of this negative attention surrounding plastic packaging has been justified, shrinkwrap actually has a pretty good record for being a versatile and effective packaging choice. There have also been many developments in shrinkwrap technology that drastically improve the environmental credentials of shrinkwrap too. 

It has protective qualities, such as helping to prevent scuffs and scrapes on white goods. It can also create a sealed environment for perishable goods, so if shrinkwrap has been properly applied then it will help to reduce food waste, which is a big sustainability issue. It also has photo-protective properties that can prevent degradation of products that are sensitive to sunlight. 

In much the same ways as cardboard, there are modern shrinkwrap options that can be used and easily disposed of. For example, compostable shrinkwrap materials can literally be thrown on the compost heap and left to decompose before being added to a plant pot and used to grow something special. There is also a new generation of shrinkwrap films that can be made to include up to 51% renewable materials, which is another aspect that greatly improves the environmental footprint of shrinkwrap packaging.

Comparing Cardboard and Shrinkwrap Packaging

The answers to sustainability questions are not always clear or straightforward. Companies must properly assess the merit of different packaging options. The merits of each packaging option also need to be contextualised with consideration for the benefits it will add to the product. 

When it comes to comparing cardboard packaging and shrinkwrap packaging there are definitely cases where one packaging option is better than the other. Depending on the type of products that need to be packaged there will usually be a ‘best’ option. However in order to properly consider the costs and the benefits of a particular packaging choice, it is advisable to speak to suppliers in the industry. For example in the shrinkwrap industry, companies like Kempner are promoting corporate social responsibility and are helping companies to navigate the complicated issues surrounding packaging choices. Working with experts means you get the best information and ultimately find the best packaging solution for your products. With so many things to consider, speaking to an expert can help save time and money, and will also deliver a cost-effective and resource efficient solution.

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