Sustainability in Packaging
Updated: Sep 27, 2021
For over twenty years, the role of packaging from an environmental lens has been a hot topic. The focus has shifted slightly–previously the concern was mainly landfill, now the main concern is reducing co2 emissions. Either way, it's ultimately about conserving precious resources for the generations to come.
First, let's address the question of why we package things in the first place. Packaging protects the product, ensures the product's integrity, and increases its shelf life. However, marketing also plays a large role in why we package products. Oftentimes, the presentation of a product is the key factor in its success or failure. Unless a new product is given the best possible chance to succeed with appropriate packaging, there is little point in putting the effort and expenses into bringing it to the market.
What is Sustainable Packaging?
Put simply, sustainable packaging is that which reduces its environmental footprint over time. There are a few ways this can happen:
Ingredients: reducing material used or using recycled or raw materials.
Reusability/Recoverability: extending the lifecycle and usability.
Manufacturing process: minimizing the manufacturing process and supply chain.
All packaging materials consume energy during their manufacturing and power during the machinery process. To provide truly sustainable packaging, both the materials and machinery used should consume as little energy or power as possible. Therefore, the key is to provide packaging solutions that can be re-usable or recovered, while still providing great product marketing and protection–and while not using large amounts of energy! Overwrapping is a great solution for meeting these criteria.
If the sole purpose for packaging is protection, overwrapping film can be extremely thin. One of the overwrap's most important roles in material reduction is its potential to replace plastic cartons. For example, a retail multipack may not need to be placed in a heavy carton (plastic or cardboard), but might be able to be grouped together in overwrap.
If a carton is necessary, the strength and weight of the carton can be reduced if overwrap film is also incorporated. Utilizing overwrap will reduce the overall material amount required in packaging the product because of its lightweight and flexibility. A carton with a lid may simply become a tray with overwrap.
Overwrap film is not reusable–once the film is torn, its job is done. Even if the film is carefully removed it is not possible for it to contain a new product.
That being said, the film can have more than one function. If you utilize a tear tape strip for extra rigidity, the film overwrap can be used as a shelf-ready tray for certain products. By using one tear tape, the top of the film is removed. The products can then sit in the lower half of the wrap, creating the tray, which then becomes shelf-ready packaging as the products are removed/sold.
There are three different methods of overwrap film recovery:
The method chosen will depend heavily on which type of overwrapping film is used. There are a variety of different types of films used for overwrap. These include:
Biophan (corn starch-based)
All of these films can be burned and will assist combustion if the waste is burnt in an incinerator. By incinerating the waste, energy will be recovered by the producing of electricity–which will dramatically decrease the amount of landfill. This tactic causes worry because of the uncertainty of what harmful contaminants might be released into the environment during the process.
Polypropylene and Polyethylene can both be partially recycled. A mixture of domestic recycled plastic waste can be reused as an additive for feedstock and other types of low-grade plastic.
For organic-based products, the other alternative is composting. This is the most environmentally friendly option by far. Temperature and time conditions for composting are quite strict when it comes to cornstarch-based films. This is not the case for biodegradable films created specifically to be composted after use. At International Packaging Incorporated or IPI, we offer a compostable green film as sustainability is a major priority to us. This eco-friendly film can also be printed on to meet your branding needs and increase your product's marketability.
When considering the amount of energy consumed, it's important to investigate the amount of power used by the wrapping machine, as well as the energy required by the air conditioning units or system, and the amount of energy consumed during the production of the wrapping material.
Overwrappers, vertical form fill, and seal machines all require small amounts of energy compared to other popular packaging machines. They only require heat to seal the film, so they do not need much energy to run.
The Most Sustainable Packaging Solution
Since packaging is an essential method for protecting goods and for increasing their marketability, packaging suppliers should be consistently searching for ways to increase the sustainability of their packaging solutions.
Overwrapping is the most eco-friendly packaging solution available because of its ability to reduce the amount of packaging material, be made from eco-conscious materials, and utilize small amounts of energy during the packaging process when compared to other options.
At IPI, we pride ourselves on our reduced carbon footprint, waste, and resource/energy usage in comparison to other more traditional forms of packaging. We have accomplished this through our environmentally clean manufacturing processes and biodegradable options. To learn more about our options and what we can do for you, give us a call at 763-315-6200 or get in touch with us!