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Packaging: Becoming greener through innovation
by James Woollard, managing director at Polythene UK
Wherever you look in the news, environmentalism is present. Flicking through the pages of a print newspaper or scanning online news outlets reveals daily stories looking at the environmental crisis and the ongoing changes to the planet.
For instance, as an indicator of the growing emphasis on climate change, Time person of the year for 2019 was 16-year-old Greta Thunberg; the youthful face of the campaign to combat the 'climate emergency' - a state of affairs that's been highlighted by such luminaries as Sir David Attenborough.
Previous Time persons of the year have included several US presidents, two popes... and Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Time then, certainly isn't afraid to court controversy in its choice, with Donald Trump a recent provocative figure for the magazine's 2016 edition.
Greta Thunberg though, whilst inevitably regarded as controversial by some, really shouldn't be. The fact is that the world is changing - whether that be from man-made global warming or a natural cycle in the earth's temperature. Whatever stance you believe to be true, and economic argument aside, the inescapable fact is that we should be looking to use greener, cleaner alternatives to promote a healthier, cleaner world - be that by reducing greenhouse gases, reducing landfill waste or simply being more considerate of resources and the natural world.
As plastic producers, we have a particular responsibility to do what we can to facilitate a more environmentally-friendly approach to our endeavours. Plastic packaging accounts for 44% of the plastic used in the UK for instance, yet 67% of the waste - evidence that there is considerable work to be done.
At Polythene UK, we've taken the initiative on innovation and invested in multiple forms of environmentally-friendly packaging products that help to reduce the huge amount of waste heading for landfill.
According to statistics, the UK adds more household waste to landfill than any other EU state. With a no-deal Brexit now a real possibility, voices in the waste management industry have expressed concern that disruption to the millions of tonnes of waste we send to EU facilities could see more heading to UK landfill sites in the short term - something that isn't going to help our environmental targets.
Despite Britain leaving the EU, the UK government has maintained that it will respect the EU's ‘Circular Economy Package’ which looks to limit the amount of household waste heading to landfill to just 10% by 2035… an ambitious target, and a welcome one, but one that needs serious change to achieve.
While much of it depends on individuals adjusting their behaviours, we can help this by creating products that make the process easier.
A prime example of this is our Polycomp, a starch-based compostable polythene that's designed to break down naturally after use, offering an innovative packing solution that doesn't need to be recycled - helping facilitate the achievement of the landfill target without relying on behavioural change in the user.
Being 100% compostable, Polycomp is designed to break down within 10 days in the right environment, while remaining strong and effective during use. In addition, it contains no Genetically Modified Organisms, having been produced free from GMO materials.
Other sustainable packaging alternatives include Polyair, one of the only 100% recyclable, carbon neutral materials currently available on the UK market. The product has been designed to improve businesses' green credentials and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint, while also providing a commercially viable alternative to standard polythene.
A bio-based material, it's made from sugar cane waste, while it's the process of photosynthesis as the plant grows that makes the product carbon neutral, meaning the raw material will remain 100% recyclable. What's more, the sugar cane actively captures CO2 from the atmosphere, while at the same time releasing oxygen - making the material not just green, but proactively green. This allows for businesses to meet legislative requirements and deliver improved environmental solutions.
Able to be used for pallet covers, top sheets, bags, wraps and liners, in terms of practical use, the material is identical to alternatives made from fossil fuels, except being fully recyclable.
Another product, Polylite, is an extremely tough, lightweight polythene material that offers substantial cost savings compared to alternative polythene packaging materials. Typically, by delivering the same strength from a thinner multi-layered product, the material can reduce the weight of a company's polythene consumption by 20%; another way of reducing the amount of plastic waste going into landfill.
By utilising environmentally-friendly products to support their wider processes, UK businesses are able to take steps towards a greener alternative with relative ease and - importantly - cost effectiveness thanks to their growing availability. But while relying on the innovation of others will undoubtedly play a part in achieving wider targets, all businesses should be looking to take an innovative approach to their way of working, doing what they can to help the UK achieve its environmental responsibilities.
16th January 2020