Sustainable Packaging and Plastic
One of the key aspects of a product is its packaging. A package, aside from defining the visual branding of a product, ensures its safety and durability. The questions we ask ourselves as we choose the right package for every product are:
Does it keep the product safe and ensure that it stays fresh over time?
Does it make the product more expensive? Is it affordable for our consumers?
Additionally, a key question that has become important today is the sustainability of the package; is the impact the packaging has on our environment as low as it can be?
While these may seem like straightforward questions, having a functional, affordable, and sustainable package isn't as easy as one may think. A key point in this conversation is the use of plastics. Packaging options range from glass and paper to plastics, but plastics play a pivotal role in food & beverage packaging for multiple reasons.
One of the most relevant questions about packaging is how much plastic to use in the packaging. The ideal may be none at all. But while we are rightly questioning our overindulgence in plastics in the last half century or so, it is easy to forget the reasons that plastics came to be such an important part of food & beverage packaging in the first place.
Why do we use so much plastic?
Plastic is durable, can be made safe, can be made visually attractive, and is versatile in application because it can be moulded into any shape. Additionally, and this is probably the biggest reason for plastic’s presence across our planet, plastic is cheap. This makes it the easiest substance to use in packaging across industries.
The durability of plastic is the exact reason that the stuff is causing concern today. Plastics take a very long time (upto 600 years depending on the specific type) to degrade. As a result of plastic’s widespread usage since its invention in the 1920s, the world has been trying to resolve the problems caused by the amount of plastic filling up our landfills and our oceans.
But what about Bioplastics?
Bioplastics rely on a blend of degradable and non-biodegradable components (all recyclable). Although bioplastics are growing more common in usage, few of them seem to meet the functionality required for storing food products. They usually find application in garbage bags or cutlery. Additionally, there appears to be mixed opinion about their biodegradability. In the process of adding chemicals to make the packaging more durable, we’re left with a product that can also take a long time to degrade. Additionally, if the bioplastic is mixed with ordinary plastics during disposal, it can hinder the recycling of plastics such as PET.
The most accessible bioplastic appears to be polylactic acid. However, PLA becomes compromised if it is filled with something hot. During the manufacturing process, products are heated to high temperatures and then filled into packaging. This makes it hard to use PLA on a product line wherein the end-product may be too hot for the bioplastic to handle.
Additionally, the technology for producing and processing bioplastic is relatively experimental. They require very specific processing to be recycled. This means that few places across the globe produce bioplastic and even fewer places process them after use. Importing packaging would hike the price of the product, while having a limited impact (for now) on the environment. Exporting the used waste is an expenditure that few companies can afford. As a result, unless the infrastructure for processing exists locally, the bioplastics might end up decomposing in a landfill.
Thus, even though they’re definitely a step in the right direction, biodegradable plastics are still experimental. This makes them expensive (as they have to be imported to India), they are possibly only a little more biodegradable than plastic, they involve specialized processing to recycle, which, unless implemented, means they will end up in landfills with other plastic.
The Bottom Line
Manufacturers, thus, can choose to invest in expensive modern bioplastics (which also have a tendency to persist in nature because of fortifying additives). However, this is expensive and will raise the price of the product significantly, making the product inaccessible. This is particularly an issue with food products.
At Goodmylk, we are committed to sustainability. However, our highest priorities are in making products of high quality that are safe and fresh during their shelf life, and making a plant-based lifestyle for everyone. This puts us in a sticky situation with regard to packaging. Plastics, or plastic-based packaging needs to go, but the infrastructure to make this transition is not available to us yet. Any attempts to use more modern technology that will reduce the impact our packaging has on the environment will cause our prices to shoot up prohibitively. This makes it harder for people to buy and consume our products.We’re waiting for food-packaging technology to get there. Until then, this is what we have to work with. Our commitment is to keep evolving our products and packaging to ensure that our environmental footprint is minimal and consumer experience is high, so for now, plastics are the way to go.