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Zero Waste Packaging: Eliminating Plastics to Level Zero

The Packaging Waste Problem

Plastic is the workhorse material of the modern day economy and is extensively used in manufacturing packaging. Over the last few years, plastic consumption has increased rapidly. Even though plastics have a lot of useful properties, they also generate waste. Plastic packaging is one of the major contributors. Why is it so difficult to get rid of plastic or at least reduce its consumption?

#1 - Limitations of Recycling

One of the major causes of plastic pollution is plastic that is not recycled. A lot of countries and region do not actively encourage recycling and often plastics end up in the landfill or in oceans. Furthermore, some plastics are non-recyclable. These include plastic wraps, Styrofoam cups and plates, CD cases, and so on. According to the Swedish EPA, only 47% of all the plastics in the Swedish market was recycled in 2016. That still leaves behind over 100,000 tonnes of plastic.

plastic recycling infographics
Image Courtesy: Statista

#2 - Plastics in Oceans

If the plastic consumption continues at this rate, by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fishes. A lot of aquatic animals are dying because of plastic in the oceans. Plastic has been found in over 60% of all aquatic animals, and in almost 100% of sea turtles.

plastic in oceans
Image Courtesy: New Yorker

#3 -The Casual Attitude of Consumers

Not every consumer is aware of the consequences of plastic pollution and how it will affect them. Many  regions do not have any legal infrastructure to prevent littering or plastic pollution. Particularly in suburban regions of developing countries, people are often not educated enough to understand the consequences of excess plastic consumption.

Bans on Disposable Plastic in Different Regions

Different regions, especially ones in the EU are banning single-use plastics. These include plastic cups, plastic straws, excessive packaging and so on. Iceland, for instance, has banned the box that is used for packaging toothpaste. Many other regions have also similarly banned excessive packaging. This means manufacturers need to adapt to the market in these regions.

What is Zero Waste Packaging?

The zero-waste philosophy encourages reuse and recycling of packaging. The returnable glass milk bottle or glass bottles of soft-drinks are the best examples of zero waste packaging. A shift from plastic packaging will allow consumers and manufacturers to reuse packaging, leaving behind no waste. In other cases, the packaging can be completely recycled, or the packaging biodegrades without causing any harm to the environment. Here are some of the most commonly used zero waste packaging solutions.

Tips to Implement Zero Waste Packaging

Tip #1 - Eco-friendly Alternatives to Plastics

A lot of manufacturers are now switching to minimal packaging and are using materials such as paper, glass, wood and other eco-friendly and reusable materials instead of plastic packaging. Unwrapped life has been using Kraft paper for almost all of their products, including soap bars, conditioner bars, shampoo bars and so on. They have also switched from using plastic tape to Kraft paper tape. Besides paper-based packaging materials, other compostable packaging materials are good alternatives too.

Unwrapped Life - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Unwrapped Life

For instance, the coffee packaging made by Level Ground Trading is made from wood pulp and is completely biodegradable.

Level Ground Trading Biodegradable coffee bags - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Loverly Packaging

Yellowtree Farm’s popcorn packaging is made from compostable materials.

Yellowtree Farm - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Lovely Packaging

The brand Postmodern takes the idea a bit further by making their composting bins compostable. The bins themselves are compostable and automatically degrades with the materials in them.

postmodern bins - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Pinterest

You might also like to read about how safe is the biodegradable food packaging market.

Tip #2 - Waste Transformation Packaging

The waste transformation aims to make the packaging reusable in some other form. For example, the packaging of Stanley Honey can be reused as a planter. The packaging can be transformed as a vase or as a pot for planting small plants. Hobbyists and creative individuals have previously reused plastic bottles as supply cups, planters, piggy banks, trash cans, and more.

Stanley Honey - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Pinterest

Tip #3 - Bring Your Own Packaging

A new trend encourages customers to bring their own reusable packaging. BYO is a marketplace that encourages shoppers to bring their own packaging. Many places in the UK has been set up that provides no packaging and expects customers to bring along bags and jars.

BYO - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: bpo.london

Similarly, a brand called Unpackaged allows stores to set up zero waste solutions for food products. Customers can come in these stores with their own packaging and buy the products they want, such as grain, pulses, cereals, chocolate, dried fruits and nuts, household cleaners and more. Similar places have also been set up in Canada.

Unpackaged - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: News 1130

Tip #4 - Incorporating New Packaging Materials

Manufacturers are now exploring packaging built from corn starch, mushroom, and other similar organic products. Saltwater Brewery is well known for their six-pack rings for their beer cans that are made from wheat and barley. These edible rings, when disposed of in the ocean, can become food for the fish.

Saltwater Brewery - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: ProFood World

IKEA has started using mushroom-based packaging for most of its products.

IKEA Mushroom-based Packaging - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Fresh Plaza

Tip #5 - Plastic-free Labeling

A lot of products still rely on plastic labeling which may not be made from recyclable plastics. This is particularly true for shrink-wrap labels. Often the inks used in printing the labels make recycling the plastic much more difficult. That is why plastic labeling is being phased out in many regions. Iceland is one of the first countries to enforce plastic-free labeling.

Ekoplaza, the Dutch supermarket chain will also stock products without plastic labeling.

The UK tea brand Teapigs will also switch to plastic-free labeling, making recycling much easier.

plastic free labelling | Teapigs - Zero Waste Packaging
Image Courtesy: Teapigs

Conclusion

Sustainability comes at a price and often, it is not convenient or easily attainable. Zero waste packaging can neither completely replace the convenience of plastic packaging, nor is it cheap. But it is a necessity considering the impact that plastic packaging has on the planet.

Take your inspiration from 10 MNCs that have successfully implemented sustainable packaging solutions.


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