“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” might sound like a horror story but, unfortunately, it is very real: a giant collection of marine debris in the waters between North America and Japan that is primarily made up of plastic. In addition to polluting ocean waters, this collection of bags, caps, bottles and cups is detrimental to marine life, which mistakes plastic items for food and consumes them, only to die from complications. According to a study published in the journal Science in February 2015, 8 million tons of plastic packaging are deposited into oceans annually.
In order to help solve this problem, many companies are now turning to new biomaterials, smarter manufacturing methods and other end-of-life alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of their plastic packaging throughout its lifecycle.
A number of multi-national food and beverage brands and packaging manufacturers have launched or integrated bioplastic products into their portfolios. Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass sources including vegetable fats, corn starch and agricultural byproducts. A study by European Bioplastics predicts that bioplastics production capacity will increase by 400 percent, from 1.6 million tons in 2013 to around 6.7 million tons by 2018.
Packaging companies are also using new manufacturing techniques to optimize packaging design and reduce their use of virgin materials. For example, Amcor used 3D virtual design, finite element analysis, collaborative innovation and workflow management to remove more than 12,000 tons of plastic resin from its bottles. MWV used lightweighting techniques to remove 18 percent of the plastic from medication packets made for a superstore.
Companies are also taking into account how the raw materials are sourced, transported, manufactured and disposed of. A cradle-to-cradle (C2C) approach, designed to mimic natural processes, ensures that products contain materials that can be reused or recovered at their highest possible value multiple times after their first use.
Other recent innovations have included edible containers and biodegradable coffee cups that are embedded with seeds and can be buried after use. In the U.S. alone, coffee “to go” is a daily staple, with an estimated 6 million cups of coffee sold in shops each day—think of the possibilities!
For more details on how the CPGR industry is transforming packaging, read the full COMPASS article “Responsible packaging: Producing reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging is a key goal for many companies”.