Switch to green packaging: Say bye to single-use plastic and opt for sustainable packaging solutions

Recently, the world celebrated July 3 as Plastic Bag Free Day. Many took it as an opportunity to switch to ecologically sensitive packaging solutions. Did you also take the pledge to proceed towards a clean environment? Well, if not, there is still time. Here are the details on how to ditch single-use plastic and opt for sustainable packaging solutions. But before we start and dig into the details, here's a simple question for you. Can you name a few materials that go into sustainable packaging? For all those who could name all the materials, we endow you with the 'Enviro Genius' title, but for the rest, the following is a checklist -

  • Bamboo
  • Bagasse (sugarcane residue)
  • Seaweed

Suppose you got them right, great! If not, read about why you were foxed with this question.

Material that matters

Needless to say that compostable solutions can do wonders for the packaging industry, including the food industry covering food carry, packaging and service. Probably for this reason only, this industry uses a 100 per cent sugarcane agri-residue known as bagasse as raw material derived from local sugar firms within the 200 - 250 km range. Nowadays, the preference is for a product portfolio comprising compostable base materials for packaging and compostable tableware ideal for delivery and dining purposes.

The raw material for the same comes with impurities such as lignin and pith. Depithers remove the pith. Since lignin restricts fibre binding, it is removed from the bagasse fibre in the pulp mill. The refined natural pulp is then shaped into tableware using semi-automatic and automatic thermoforming machines.

A senior director of one of the leading firms says that the packaging solutions focus on plastic alternative items and the appropriate use of recycled materials to decrease the overall carbon footprints, completely adhering to the latest government norms. He adds that prioritising sustainably derived materials, like compostable made from agro-based materials, FSC-certified paper and jute and bamboo-based products, offer sustainable and safe alternatives to plastic packaging. They also ensure the optimum selection of the processes and materials to design solutions promoting recyclability and circular economy.

Plastic misery

Many of you might be aware that one of the significant challenges of plastic packaging is its non-biodegradable nature. This is so because it poses many harmful effects on the environment. Thus, alternative packaging solutions that are more eco-friendly and intended to preserve the product's freshness and quality over an extended time are grabbing eyeballs. A head of markets of a reputed firm believes that renewable paperboard is a primary element of sustainable packaging solutions. This material is sourced from responsibly managed forests. She added that increasing the number of renewable materials in carton packing will aid in reducing the dependence on resources derived from fossils. Also, it will help the shift towards a more sustainable packaging solution. She says they use completely recyclable caps and straws on the packing in their firm. Also, she is more inclined towards carton packs intended to decrease wastage, lower material usage and reduce transportation emissions.

Bioplastic conflict

Seaweed-based coatings are not a feasible option for the existing ones; they are also very cost-effective and high performing. Taking about the bioplastics, these could be plant-based, but many of them are still derived from petroleum-based resources, and the final item may still contain synthetic components in them, making them complex to compost and recycle. Also, when the environmental impact and sustainability of the final product are at stake, bioplastics find a place in a grey area.

On the hand, naturally occurring polymers are not only made from renewable sources such as seaweed but are intended to break down and degrade naturally without releasing any toxic emissions, microplastics and synthetic chemicals into the environment. Living organisms produce these polymers via biological processes. They are used in many industries because of their distinctive biodegradability features.

Product as a service

Understanding several institutions' packaging requirements and related pain points, creating a model that offers reusable containers as a service is essential. This service facilitates sustainable packaging alternatives to hospitals, corporations, universities, co-working spaces, co-living spaces and food delivery partners such as Swiggy and Zomato.

Imagine a situation where disposable plastic containers used by Swiggy and Zomato are replaced by reusable alternatives such as Tupperware boxes. The concept is to reuse the box to decrease the carbon footprint.

Communicating with the corporates, finding the exact requirements and supplying them with reusable plates for the entire day is possible. Also, these plates can be easily collected after use to be washed and reused. This decreases electricity, consumables and water. As a matter of fact, Swiggy and Zomato had a particular issue in reducing their single-use plastics. Thus, replacing it with the collected reusable, washing it and finally reusing it. The impact of all this can be colossal as it can reduce 2,00,000 kg of disposable waste.

Cost factor

As the complete ecosystem progresses towards greener solutions, the need for more raw materials and infrastructure in the market remains an ongoing challenge. While the plastic packaging alternatives cost exceeds that of traditional options, strategic investments are being made, yielding positive strides in cost reduction. Also, aseptic cartons prices are comparable to PET packaging. Nonetheless, the price depends on closures and volume sizes, significantly contributing to the overall packaging cost.

Tech Edge

Technology also plays a vital role in packaging, both solutions and products. Interestingly, at a prominent firm, a strong internal technology team makes sure that the firm's premise reuses the same container at least 200 times. They use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Quick Response (QR) Codes and their own inventory management systems to ensure they know how many cycles each product has undergone and where it is available at a specific time. The use of routing algorithms to batch multiple orders together and collect such containers in the best possible way is also preferred.

Using processes such as injection moulding, blow moulding, and extrusion that engage heating and shaping the material into the desired form is also gaining attention. Additionally, one must support green technology to create biodegradable and sustainable options for plastic packaging.

As plastic pollution resumes to make ways to water sources and landfills, it is the right time to switch to sustainable and biodegradable plastic bag manufacturing now. Though these are small steps, the real impact can be seen only when there is a mass acceptance of these forms of packaging.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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