People and Environment

Hidden Plastic

It is not a myth that when we say plastic is everywhere, we mean EVERYWHERE. And, besides emphasizing the fact that there are places where it should not be (like polluting the water or being ingested by birds), the presence of plastics is important to help improve our lives. We know we can find plastics in electronics, food appliances, transport, and our clothes (yes, that polyester t-shirt you got on sale at the mall is also made out of polymers). But that´s not it.

If you thought that your aluminum can is just aluminum, social media probably could let you know that you can find plastic also as an inner layer in it, as it is necessary to protect both the aluminum and its content. However, one thing that has caught my eye is this so-called “paper bottle”. We already saw this innovation back in 2013, when the company GreenBottle would launch the “World´s first paper bottle” in the UK. They then partnered with American wine producer Paper Boy, and for a moment was quite hyped in the U.S. A little Google search would show that Paperboy changed back to crystal (perhaps because who wants to drink paperboard wine?) and GreenBottle stopped operations in 2015. Either way, other companies joined the evolution of paper bottles.

Carlsberg took the lead in 2015 and later on, companies like Absolut Vodka, L´Oréal, and even Coca-Cola joined the paper-bottle movement. These companies take pride in their sustainability efforts to bring alternative packaging solutions to their customers, but how sustainable really are these new alternatives? So far, this innovation simply consists of a carton board that has plastic as an inner layer to give that protective barrier necessary for liquids, since obviously, only paper cannot provide that property. Another example is the French brand “Les Secrets de Leontine” that produces cleaning products also offers this type of container, which at the end is an HDPE plastic surrounded by cardboard, and even though this cardboard does come from recycled carton and old newspapers according to the producer, can´t really see where is the sustainability part on that. In the case of Johnny Walker´s paper bottle, I must admit I find it intriguing to see how they will deal with the inner layer of the bottle, as they advertise it as “the world’s first-ever 100% plastic-free paper-based spirits bottle, made entirely from sustainably sourced wood”. Apparently, this innovation should see light within the following months, and we will know if it actually comes up to our expectations or is just another example of greenwashing.

Besides the praising this type of packaging receives on social media, it also raises questions on consumers’ behaviour, because how much can we rely on someone taking the time to separate the carton from the plastic layer for recycling purposes? And that is considering whether is possible or not to separate them. Depending on where you are, chances are that those products end up being landfilled or burned. Not quite the sustainable alternative.

When designing packaging for food contact, there are different factors to be kept in mind: hygiene, shelf life, barrier, supply chain, end-of-life, and how does all of this fit in the sustainability approach. So, besides marketing purposes, this type of bottle doesn´t bring any more benefits compared to your conventional and visible plastic. As mentioned in previous blogs, studies show the environmental impact of different materials and compared them one to another[1] and, at the end of the day, plastic still wins as the most sustainable option.


Estefania López
Technical Support Engineer


[1] Examining Material Evidence – The Carbon Fingerprint (p. 8), Imperial College London