Plastics and Innovation

On the way to becoming waste-free or why bioplastics are used in the packaging industry

According to the European Commission, around 40% of the plastics produced worldwide are used for packaging applications.  Those packaging products have an average lifetime of just 0.5 years. By comparison, the life expectancy of plastic products in the textile industry are 5 years, and 35 years in the construction industry. The consequences of the short life cycle of packaging become apparent when looking at the waste figures: far more than half of the waste generated in Europe comes from packaging waste.

Figure: own depiction

The first and most important step to counteract this trend is to avoid packaging. Each and everyone of us should either try to limit the consumption whenever possible or to reuse the packaging as often as possible in order to extend its life cycle.

However, at the same time, we must understand that a complete elimination of plastics is unthinkable nowadays. For this reason, alternative materials are constantly being sought. Paper, glass or bioplastics are just a few examples. However, a substitution with paper or glass is highly controversial, not only because of a higher weight or higher costs but also because of a negative environmental impact. Bioplastics are also often criticized, but they do have advantages, especially in the flexible packaging industry. The requirements of flexible packaging, which tends to be less technical, can be met by bioplastics in most cases. Therefore, existing machines can continue to be used, and the general advantages of plastics can be maintained. Moreover, new developments even make it possible to produce food packaging that ensures food stays fresh longer. Another advantage is the possibility of composting biodegradable materials. Even if the commercial use of composting is not yet sufficiently possible today, these developments are promising.

Source: Nova Institute, European Bioplastics

 

Sofie Mangertseder

Circularity Associate

 


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