Sustainable Packaging Materials: Know the Differences
There is a lot of talk and concern these days about the food that we eat and its impact on the environment. Scientific studies and media stories regularly shine a spotlight on foods that we take for granted, influencing our perceptions of how good or bad they are for us, as well as the sustainability of the planet. But it is not just our food that we have to consider; what the food and other items are packaged in is are just as important.
Over the last few years, people have become hyper-aware of the materials they use, not just to package food, and environmentally friendly packaging solutions are now commonplace. In his 2017 series, “Blue Planet II,” respected television presenter Sir David Attenborough warned of the problems caused by plastic pollution in our oceans. After his plea for change hit the airwaves, 88% of viewers reported altering their approach to using plastic packaging (Waitrose & Partners, 2018). Since then, it has become much more common to see paper drinking straws in restaurants, compostable coffee cups in cafes and people drinking out of reusable water bottles.
Now, a large portion of the materials we use day to day are either recyclable, biodegradable or compostable, and this trend promises to become even more prevalent in the coming years. However, these distinctions have actually left many people at odds as to how to properly dispose of their waste, anxious of making a mistake that could hurt the environment.
So, to give you a clear idea of what these terms actually mean, here is a quick cheat sheet:
Recyclable materials include anything that can be collected and reprocessed to make new products. Many materials — such as glass, plastic, metal, paper, textiles and electronics — can be recycled. However, recycling is not easy, and for some materials like plastic, a very small portion of discarded materials are recycled.
When recycling works well, it can prolong the life cycle of the materials in an item and save on the amount of energy required to make a new item. This means that less waste goes to the landfill and, as a result, fewer new items have to be produced to replace the old ones.
On the surface, the word “biodegradable” seems pretty straightforward: It refers to something that degrades biologically. Simple enough! Unfortunately, it is actually a little more complicated than that.
First, we must remind ourselves that all materials degrade. It may take 1,000 years, but all plastics will break down eventually. Calling a product biodegradable, however, suggests that it will completely decompose in a much shorter timeframe. For example, EU directives state that, to qualify as biodegradable, a material must achieve at least 90% biodegradation within six months (European Commission).
Second, while biodegradable packaging is said to break down easily in nature, the circumstances and conditions often need to be just right for that to happen. In a setting where the proper microorganisms, fungi and bacteria are present, the process will be quick and uncomplicated; in a different setting, decomposition could be impossible (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018).
Biodegradable materials should not be disposed of with regular recycling, as doing so will compromise and contaminate the recycling process, leading to low-quality products (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018). This is not to say that all materials marked as “biodegradable” are to be avoided. You just need to be vigilant if you are truly trying to make a difference in the world. Always make sure that the material you are using is safe for the environment and that you dispose of it properly so that it can break down successfully.
Organic materials that can break down in nature are considered compostable. “Compostable” and “biodegradable” are often considered interchangeable terms, but there are some important distinctions.
For the most part, compostable materials feature all of the aspects that might be missing in biodegradables. For instance, compostable materials will always break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass, leaving no harmful elements behind. These products also usually disintegrate within 90 days of being tossed on the compost heap.
The convenience of compostable containers is that they negate the need to separate waste. If you are drinking coffee from a compostable paper cup, for example, or using eggs from a compostable carton, both the food and packaging waste can be disposed of together.
An added bonus is that the eventual compost produced by these materials can then be used as fertilizer that helps to grow plants. In this way, these products are not only safe for the environment, but can add value to it as well.
Sustainability is a major concern at Acutia, especially when it comes to the environmental impact of packaging. That is why we use a sustainable and environmentally friendly refill model.
- The first time that you order a product from us, it will arrive in a shipping box made from partially recycled material certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
- Inside will be a reusable glass jar, which you can refill, and a travel container, which is designed to complement your lifestyle and support sustainable wellness wherever you go!
- All subsequent orders are then shipped in a compostable refill pouch that is made from durable bio-based material, which is compostable.
- The shipping envelopes that protect your refill pouches are made from 100% recycled paper, 25% post-consumer waste, and the cushioning inside is made from 100% recycled, 100% post-consumer waste.
- The supplements facts card is made from 100% post-consumer waste recycled content and is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Acutia also partners with Nori, a carbon removal marketplace that provides a verifiable and credible way to offset the environmental impact of shipping. Nori sources carbon removal by supporting farmers who adopt regenerative agriculture practices that sequester CO2 from the atmosphere.
The world is becoming more conscious about the materials we use and how they affect our planet. Small changes can make a big difference, but we need to be vigilant and pay attention to how we use and dispose of our packaging.