Sustainable packaging, by definition, is a type of packaging that is made with recyclable, and reusable materials using less energy consumption and humane. Note that while environmental buzzwords such as “eco-friendly” and “green” may be related, these words are not totally the same as sustainable packaging. Eco-friendly simply means it doesn’t harm the environment in its lifecycle – its production, use by consumers, and disposal. Product labels that say “eco-friendly” implies that the manufacturer is environmentally responsible, as manufacturers are required to be under strict guidelines.
Green, on the other hand, is a broader term used to describe better practices and improvements directed toward the environment. Businesses going “green” implies that the priority is not just gaining profit, but also protecting and restoring the environment for future generations. For individuals, living “green” is a lifestyle choice.
How Do You Know If It’s Sustainable?
Sustainability, compared with “eco-friendly” and “green”, is a holistic approach. It focuses on the future and covers three Ps: Profit, People, and Planet. While this word is often thrown around in government projects and private ventures, it carries a higher standard. Not all environmentally friendly packaging or green packaging is sustainable. Sustainable packaging in essence is not just a trend, but a commitment to be socially, and environmentally responsible. More manufacturers are now embracing sustainable packaging as this has become a priority concern, even for consumers and investors.
What are the Common Types of Sustainable Packaging?
Considered as the most common type of packaging material, kraft paper is made of leftovers from creating pulp from virgin trees. It is lightweight and completely biodegradable. Kraft paper is a good alternative to plastic packaging as it is durable and comes in either bleached or brown color. Interestingly, Kraft paper is also resistant to oil, making it reliable for packaging in school and restaurants.
This environmentally friendly packaging material has a high level of cellulose that’s why it looks and feels like cardboard, with natural brown color. Made from the extracted juice of sugarcane fiber pulp, Bagasse paper is sometimes used as an alternative packaging in the food industry. Thanks to PFOA chemicals (perfluorooctanoic acid), Bagasse paper becomes resistant to heat and moisture.
Also known as “fungi packaging”, mushroom packaging has roots that hold together agricultural wastes such as husks or corn stalks. These roots are called mycelium and this is as durable as plastic packaging. Mushroom packaging is fully compostable, requires tenth of the energy needed to manufacture plastic foam and grows to custom moldable shapes in just seven days.
Most people think that seaweed is just some slimy stuff from the ocean. Similar to mushrooms, seaweed also contains agar – a gelatinous substance with several applications. It is a vegetarian alternative to gelatin and works as a binder to hold together plant waste such as wheat. Aside from being an alternative to plastic, seaweed is also used in personal care products, animal feed, and fertilizer.
This material is the oldest one to be cultivated as it started in China as early as 2800 BCE. Hemp requires less water to grow and decompose in six months. While it may be the oldest material on this list, it is also the newest addition to the growing list of recognized sustainable packaging materials.
Due to its biodegradable nature, lawmakers started seeing the value of hemp that it became a popular material for packaging. In the U.S., cultivation and distribution of Hemp as an agricultural product was federally legalized through the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 signed by Donald Trump. Other countries that produce hemp include Canada, US, France, and Chile.