Is the war on plastic the right move in promoting eco friendly packaging?

Plastic might not be the only enemy!

When it comes to the climate crisis, plastic is public enemy no.1 at the moment. It gets some really bad press and rightly so. It’s everywhere and it’s really hard to get rid of and recycle effectively. We toss our plastic bottles and containers into the recycling bin and presume that they go on a magical journey to the recycling center where they are dealt with effectively, melted down and reused for something else.

The truth is that here in the UK we produce more waste than we are capable of disposing of. Most of our plastics are shipped off to other countries such as Thailand or Malaysia and either burnt or piled into illegal dumps where the waste eventually finds its way into rivers and oceans…


Are the usual ‘eco friendly packaging’ alternatives much better?
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It's not just plastic…

The truth is, it’s not just plastic bottles and containers we need to worry about. Plastic packaging deserves all the bad rep it gets, and these other forms of packaging are better alternatives, however there are some downsides that you need to know before switching. Unfortunately it isn’t as simple as it first seems…

Cardboard packaging

Cardboard is often thought of as a good eco friendly packaging alternative to plastic. It is recyclable, light weight and also compostable. But, solving our waste problem is not as simple as switching all of our plastic packaging to cardboard.

The fact is, although cardboard seems like a better alternative, there are many downsides to using it. Cardboard is produced using wood pulp. The demonisation of plastic packaging has led to a huge increase in the demand for cardboard and paper packaging. More than two billion trees are now logged each year for cardboard packaging alone!

What’s more, as cardboard breaks down and decomposes, it emits methane, a potent gas that is partly responsible for global warming. So, while it’s often dubbed the environmentally friendly packaging alternative to plastic, but if everyone turns to cardboard as the answer it really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Aluminium packaging

Aluminium can be seen in many forms on our supermarket shelves. The most damaging form is aluminium foil, the stuff that crisp packets and yoghurt lids are made from. This aluminium foil is not recyclable and takes about 400 years to decompose in landfill sites.

Another form that aluminium takes is the aluminium cans that are used for fizzy drinks. Although these cans are recyclable, they are all coated with a plastic called epoxy to stop the cans from eroding and so plastic rears its ugly head once more.

The biggest issue with aluminium though may not be in its disposal but in the production process itself. The production of aluminium requires an ore called bauxite which can only be attained through mining. Bauxite mining has been linked to water contamination. It also takes a lot of energy to transform bauxite into aluminium and the pfleurocarbons released into the environment during the process are 9200 times more harmful than carbon dioxide according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Glass packaging

Glass is often hailed as a cure all for the packaging crisis. Eco influencers love to show off their shelves full of mason jars and bottles and it's one thing that your grandparents love to hark back on whenever you bring up plastic pollution. ‘Back in my day everything came in glass bottles there was none of this plastic business.’

The fact is that glass is only a truly eco friendly packaging solution when it is reused and the infrastructure for this doesn’t currently exist. Glass is an extremely heavy material which leads to greater energy expenditure on transportation and distribution, it requires a great deal of heat to be melted and recycled and the production of glass also requires natural resources such as sand which are disappearing from our shores at greater rates than it is being produced naturally.

Packaging solutions

Eco friendly packaging ideas

If we really want to solve our packaging problem, real eco friendly packaging solutions lie in innovation and creativity. Using new natural materials that are disposable and won’t take away from food sources, forests or other habitats. You can read more about these funky alternatives in another blog we wrote.

Use less packaging

Of course new and exciting packaging is great, but perhaps the best solution is to use less packaging altogether. Do we need our fruits and veg to come wrapped in plastic film? Can we design packaging to be more minimal? Can we create a circular economy that profits from reusing materials instead of recycling or disposing of them altogether?