The primary roles of packaging are to protect, identify, and promote. Here is a look at how we can maintain these functions while decreasing the use of plastic.
Now lets break it down to understand more about each of these important options.
1. Substitution to paper. Its estimated that approximately 20% of packaging applications which use plastic, have feasibility to use some type of paper-based material instead. For example, the plastic fruit trays you may see at the grocery. These could be substituted with a compostable thermo-formed paper pulp tray.
2. Substitution to another plastic. There are 7 RINs (Resin Identification Numbers) for plastic materials. These are often seen on the bottom of a container with the number shown inside the recyclable arrow based triangle. An example of this would be changing a clear plastic bag from #4 LDPE which is rarely accepted in the recycle stream, to #2 HDPE which is widely accepted.
3. Lightweighting. The principle here is to produce a package with the same functionality, using less plastic per unit. One application of this where we have had success is decreasing the wall thickness of a thermo-formed plastic insert.
4. Removal of a pigment. There are certain pigments like most standard red and yellow pigments which cause issues in the recycling process. Check the pigment to make sure it is recyclable, and as a rule of thumb aim to produce without a pigment, where acceptable in the market.
5. Substitution to mono-material plastic. Often plastics are made with multiple types of plastic resins. Doing this can make it easier to certain barriers needed for the type of container. However when using multi-layer plastics try to use identical polymer grades when developing the layered construction, so it can be recycled as a single substance.
6. Substitution to another material. Metal cans rank similarly high to paper cartons in terms of the lowest carbon footprint. Its always a prudent step to look at your packaging application to see if a material change is feasible. An example of this would be the current move from plastic water bottles to metal bottles.