Biodegradable. Compostable. Recyclable. Sustainable…when it comes to packaging, we love our “ables.” It makes us feel good to talk about environmental sustainability and to demand it from food packaging suppliers. Sometimes, however, we should be careful what we wish for, as the supposed solution to pollution is not always as environmentally friendly as we might think.

environmental sustainabilityDid you know, for example, that it takes three times more water to make a plastic water bottle than the bottle actually contains? So, in a valiant effort to reduce both the amount of water needed and the number of plastic bottles in landfills, soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo developed bottles made from plants such as seaweed and mushrooms. But this ultimately diverted valuable resources away from food production. Not then, as environmentally sustainable as it sounds on paper.

Nestle Waters and DanoneWave, on the other hand, have partnered with Origin Materials, a Californian-based startup, to produce water bottles made from sustainable waste products from the wood processing industry, such as sawdust and cardboard. By 2022, they hope to be making bottles that are 95% bio-based. Now that is environmental sustainability in action.

Can Business And Environmental Sustainability Be Friends?

A few years ago, packaging was just packaging, and business was happy. Today, consumers are becoming more and more eco-aware and recycling savvy, forcing businesses to take a long hard look at their food packaging, and make significant changes in response to these changes in consumer thinking and behaviour.

Packaging is undeniably an indispensable part of the marketing and sale of food, but it can no longer get away with being harmful to the environment. All over the world, brand owners and major retailers are responding to consumer demands and publicly committing to sustainable food packaging. The end goal is to reduce packaging waste and encourage a broader shift to what’s known as the circular economy.

This concept is currently more widely known in Europe, but rumblings are filtering through to South Africa too. The basic principles of a circular economy – which is far more environmentally sustainable than the traditional mindset of take-make-dispose – are all to do with closing the gaps between producing, manufacturing and consuming. A circular economy has a closed loop, in which materials, nutrients and data are continuously repurposed.

Ultimately, however, food packaging must be fit for purpose, and there’s little point in making packaging eco-friendly if it’s not going to do its intended job of protecting the food inside. In that scenario, we lose on the swings what we gained on the roundabouts. PE-coated cardboard, for instance, provides heat resistance against the re-heating of food, as well as protection from grease absorption. To be recycled correctly, however, it needs to be stripped from the rest of the packaging. There is also definitely still a place for plastic packaging and even the most die-hard eco-warriors have to admit that every now and then, paperboard alone is simply not enough.

Mapflex is the proud supplier of Perfotec MAP products in South Africa.  Perfotec’s polymeric modified atmosphere packaging film is biodegradable by composting, and can also be recycled. In fact, Perfotec packaging products are ideal for granulating and converting into other sustainable items, including books, bags and even benches! If you’d like to know more about this amazing product, please contact us today.