Plastic has long been used as the most common form of product packaging, especially when it comes to food. This is because it is easily mass-produced, can be shaped into almost any mould, is relatively strong (which keeps the product safe), is often transparent (which allows you to see the product through the packaging), and can keep food sealed airtight (to prevent decomposition).
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder plastic packaging is so widely used. However, there is of course a big problem with using plastic for packaging; it’s really harmful to the environment. We have discussed how bad plastic can be for our planet numerous times on our blog so we won’t go into detail on this post but you can read more about it here and here. But with that in mind, we will now discuss the alternatives to plastic packaging available to businesses and manufacturers.
Classic alternatives to plastic product packaging
Card and cardboard is a fantastic alternative to plastic packaging for most products. This is because it is widely recycled, relatively easy to mass-produce, and does a good job at protecting the product. However, it does have its flaws which are perhaps most apparent when it is used for food packaging. It loses its structural integrity when it gets wet, complex shapes are difficult to mass-produce, creating air-tight packaging with the material is very difficult, and you won’t be able to easily show off the product as it’s not transparent.
This is why this material is often best for transportation packaging. But for product packaging, it can be combined with things like wax to mitigate the effects of moisture on the card.
Alumminium Cans and Metal Tins
Aluminium cans and metal tins are other common types of packaging for various products. They are strong and do a great job of protecting the products they hold, and can keep things like food and drink produce air-tight, they can also largely be mass-produced. However, they are not very versatile and are only really used for a handful of product types such as food and chemicals, and paints etc. The main flaws are the weight of the material, the lack of shape options, and the opaqueness.
Glass is another classic product packaging material. Glass is often easily widely recycled, mass-produced, mouldable, and is often transparent and so can show off the product inside. However, it is not fantastic at protecting the product because despite it not losing its structural integrity when wet, it can be easily smashed and cracked due to the fragility of glass. It also often needs to be combined with things like metal lids to keep produce airtight and similar to tins and cans, it is not that versatile as a packaging material and is usually used for food and drink, and beauty products.
New forms of product packaging
With the advancement of technology and pressure to reduce plastic packaging production, there have been plenty of new innovations within the packaging industry which we hope will be adopted on mass in the near future. Here are some examples of these innovative materials.
Bagasse is a by-product of sugarcane processing. It can be easily moulded into packaging suitable for food delivery and food service – similar to polystyrene. Unlike polystyrene, however, it is biodegradable and compostable, and because it is a by-product it is much more sustainable to produce. But it is not easily mass-produced and not transparent.
Stone paper and plastic
Did you know that paper can be made out of stone? This innovation has several possible packaging applications. It can be used as a paper or plastic alternative, being printable, recyclable and water-proof. It is made from calcium carbonate, which is one of the Earth’s most abundant resources and its production process uses less water, has a lower carbon footprint, and is more energy-efficient than regular paper production.
Stone paper can also be used to make certified food-grade packaging. The material can be used for making paper bags, takeaway food cartons, greaseproof paper wraps as well as ziplock bags. Its ability to come in a transparent form is fantastic for packaging options.
Silberboard metalised paper
Developed as a sustainable alternative to traditional composite metallised papers and boards, Silberboard is both recyclable and compostable. The material can be used for all kinds of packaging – for food, household goods and pharmaceuticals. It is good at keeping produce air-tight but its protective qualities are somewhat left to be desired.
What are some recommended solutions?
It does seem as though both the classic and new packaging materials do have at least one flaw when compared to plastic, which, when it comes to saving the planet is more than acceptable. However, finding a sweet spot might be more convenient for businesses. As such we would recommend combining materials such as using cardboard with plastic windows to allow customers to see the product if it is on shelves for instance. Whilst this does still use some plastic it is far less than you get with fully plastic packaging and so will play its part in reducing plastic production.
If you’re a small business, we also recommend using products from the environmentally safe range at CheaperConsumables. There you can find packaging options that are recyclable or are made from sustainable manufacturing processes.