Strong, long lasting, lightweight. The benefits that first made plastic popular for packaging are now the reasons why identifying alternative solutions is important. To meet consumer demand, many companies have set targets to operate more sustainably, with an emphasis on reducing plastic use. However, while well intentioned, these initiatives can miss the mark if the right steps aren’t taken to implement them.
Hot Take on Plastic
There’s no doubt that plastic use has become a hot topic around the world. While it’s an issue that needs to be addressed, reducing plastic use is not as simple as one might think.
Reducing carbon footprint isn’t only related to material choice. Other factors, like minimizing carbon emissions, should also be considered. For example, plastic is stronger, more versatile and more lightweight than paper-based products. To substitute many plastics with paper products would likely mean using more packaging and could contribute to more emissions from production and shipping.
Evaluating Alternative Solutions
There is no shortage of alternatives to help reduce the use of plastic. The trick is understanding what the alternatives are, when they represent a greener product choice – and when they may not. Edible food packaging, for example, helps to reduce plastic waste and can even add nutrients to the food it protects. On the other hand, this type of packaging is often water-soluble and has a shorter shelf life than other packaging options, meaning that the food will have a shorter shelf life too.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Following this simple rule can make a significant impact in reducing overall plastic consumption. Finding ways to reduce and reuse plastics is a great first step in managing waste. Recycling is helpful, too, but there’s a lot to know about the different types of plastics and how to recycle them.
Not all plastics are created equal. Plastics used for packaging are identified based on their composition and are marked with resin codes one to seven. These codes help to identify the plastic’s end-of-life management because only certain plastics can be recycled by municipal programs. Unfortunately, many end users are unaware of what is, or isn’t, accepted in their area.
Choosing the Best Option
So, how can we know what’s the best choice? The right solution is about more than the material you choose. It’s important for packaging to fulfill its purpose, while also considering what that means for its end-of-life management.
The bottom line? There is no single path to improving sustainability. Each company’s requirements are different, their customers’ needs are different and their path to greater sustainability will also be different.