More than 75 million tons of packaging waste is generated annually by the aggregate of commercial, residential and institutional users, according to the U.S. EPA, while only roughly half of that amount is recycled. The end result is that about 37 million tons per year end up in the landfill, accounting for at least 30 percent of all municipal solid waste. Food packaging accounts for almost two-thirds of total packaging waste by volume. Moreover, food packaging is approximately 50% (by weight) of total packaging.
Traditional Sustainable Packaging-
Before the onslaught of Styrofoam, Thermacol and Plastics the packaging materials were Glass, Metal & Paper, all reusable and recyclable.
Glass has an extremely long history in food packaging; the 1st glass objects for holding food are believed to have appeared around 3000 BC. Recycled broken glass (cullet) is also used in glass manufacture and may account for as much as 60% of all raw materials. Improved break resistance allows manufacturers to use thinner glass, which reduces weight and is better for transportation. Because it is odorless and chemically inert with virtually all food products, glass has several advantages for food-packaging applications: It is impermeable to gases and vapors, so it maintains product freshness for a long period of time without impairing taste or flavor. The ability to withstand high processing temperatures makes glass useful for heat. On a personal note the glass jars of milk additives I bought 40 years back are still in use as storage containers of pulses, sugar, salt, flour, millets etc. without a scratch. They are still transparent, scratch free, attractive and can beat any of the new storage jars available in the market.
Metal is the most versatile of all packaging forms. It offers a combination of excellent physical protection and barrier properties, formability and recyclability. The 2 metals most predominantly used in packaging are aluminum and steel.
Aluminum is a lightweight, silvery white metal highly resistant to moisture, air, odors, light, and microorganisms. It has good flexibility and surface resilience, excellent malleability and formability. It is also an ideal material for recycling because it is easy to reclaim and process into new products.
Steel is formidable packaging material for both food and non-food products. It can be indefinitely recycled with no loss in inherent properties and in Europe it’s the most recycled material.
Paper & Board use for food packaging dates back to the 17th century with accelerated usage in the later part of the 19th century.
Paper used as primary food packaging is coated with waxes, resins, or lacquers to improve functional and protective properties. Personally I miss the bread, biscuits, toffees etc. in paper wrappings.
Paperboard is thicker than paper with a higher weight per unit area and often made in multiple layers. It is commonly used to make containers for shipping—such as boxes, cartons, and trays. White board may be coated with wax and is recommended for direct food contact. Solid board has multiple layers and used to package fruit juices and soft drinks. Chipboard is made from recycled paper, least expensive and used for cartons of foods such as tea and cereals. Fiberboard can be solid or corrugated provides good protection against impact and compression.
Science behind Sustainable Packaging-
Sustainable packaging relies on best engineering, energy management, materials science and life cycle thinking, in order to minimize the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle. The aim of sustainable packaging is to:
- Reduce packaging—
Never over package, use minimum amount of packaging material using best engineering practices of this field. Reducing excess packaging is the easiest and an effective way to start a green packaging initiative.
Just reducing packaging however is not enough. It is important to select the materials whose environmental impact and energy use is the lowest during its life cycle and whose material science has been investigated. The use of which reduces the waste to landfill sites and that is cost effective. Consider the following new packaging materials –
· Biodegradable Packaging-
- Bagasse is biodegradable packaging: Bagasse is the pulp of sugarcane after the sucrose has been extracted. Until recently, the bagasse was destroyed after sugar production. Now, new methods allow it to be converted into lightweight, durable, biodegradable packaging.
- Mycelium is green packaging from mushrooms. Mycelium can be grown over a short period in custom-shaped molds. This packaging is economical, sturdy, and earth friendly.
iii. Shredded wood was normally either a waste material or was used for cooking but it is reusable, light weight, green earth friendly packaging material provided the wood has been procured from certified, responsibly managed, renewable forests.
- Straw is not only good for insulation but also a good cheap and green packaging material for all non-food products.
- Eliminate hazardous materials being used.
- Reduce mixed materials for packaging as much as possible mixing of because pulling apart is not always possible or is costly and energy consuming. Even the simplest
packaging materials like a cardboard liner with a wood frame, stapling the two pieces together makes recycling inconvenient; this requires firstly that materials are pulled apart with resultant “breakaway”, introduction of the third material though inconspicuous but dangerous like staples.
To see a video on mycelium as a biotechnological revolution see: https://vimeo.com/dezeen/officina-corpuscoli-growing-products-materials-fungus?ref=em-share
Dr. Ms. Iqbal Malik
Founder & Director