Finding ways to reduce plastic use and make packaging more recyclable and reusable, all the while maintaining product integrity, quality and safety, is a well-known challenge facing the packaging industry. When it comes to sectors such as food and drink or pharmaceuticals, or elements like Cosmetic Caps and Closures, the challenge becomes more difficult as packaging suddenly has a far higher burden in regards to ensuring safety. And while materials such as polypropylene are largely recyclable, there is no guarantee that they will be used in products that fit into larger recycling streams.
Like many other major plastics applications, plastics use in flexible packaging has come under deep scrutiny in recent years as sustainability concerns rise and spread globally.
Paper Packaging is often lauded as a far more environmentally friendly alternative but how do the two materials really compare? And what is the most sustainable solution?
Historically, papers have been used in flexible packaging for many applications, including confectionery, pet food and dried food. By the early-2000s, however, paper demand as a flexible packaging substrate began to decline due to competition from down-gauging and the rise of plastic alternatives.
Comparing green credentials isn’t as straightforward as some would think, however.
Paper is far more biodegradable than plastic and very easily recycled. But it often ends up in landfill, where its degradation rate slows – while it takes up more space than the same weight of plastic. Additionally, paper-based flexible packaging is often laminated with plastic/aluminium or coated with resin, therefore becoming non-recyclable.