Plastic packaging alternatives – what should you procure?

Plastic, one of the most useful and versatile materials, but also one of the most unsustainable and environmentally damaging. A 2016 study from the World Economic Forum states that each year, over 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean, which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one rubbish truck into the ocean every minute. If this current pattern continues, it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Majority of plastic takes centuries to decompose in the environment and once in the ocean, leach potentially toxic chemicals such as bispenol A and hydrocarbons, which are harmful to not only marine life, but other organisms within the food chain, including humans (National Geographic). Marine species including seals, dolphins and whales are significantly impacted by plastic pollution, with an estimate from Plymouth University stating at least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year from plastic pollution.

The awareness to how detrimentally damaging this material is, is slowly increasing with many companies now taking a stand against un-necessary plastics in their supply chains. Sustainability leaders, such as Sky, have started to remove plastic from their canteen as part of their Ocean Rescue campaign. Increasingly, we see businesses looking to understand how they too can do their bit to minimise the use of plastics, yet not sure where to start.

With nearly half of the global plastic produced used for packaging, it is as good as any place to start with reducing and minimising the use of single-use plastic packaging – the type of plastic most likely to end up polluting our oceans.

There are now a number of sustainable packaging companies that produce alternative products made from plant-based materials (such as Poly-Lactic Acid), an alternative that looks and feels exactly like plastic) or kraft paper products. Not only can these products be disposed of via a number of different routes, for example either straight in the mixed recycling (kraft paper based products) or in the compost/food waste bin (sugar cane and PLA based products), they also decompose at a much quicker rate than any plastic product, making them considerably less environmentally damaging.

But which sustainable packaging products are good? And who produces the best products? Carbon Smart has taken the opportunity to review a selection of products from three companies: Vegware, Biopac and GreenGate. We’ve focused on compostable products, that can be used for takeaways, such as alternatives to the plastic salad boxes used in office canteens and plastic cutlery.

 

Compostable cutlery

Conversations with our clients have led us to believe that compostable cutlery seem to have a bad reputation – always breaking and not performing as well as their plastic counterparts.  However, if you have already been trialling out the lower carbon intensive compostable takeaway boxes, you may be experiencing the same challenge we often face – employees will dispose of their compostable boxes in the correct waste stream, but will leave their plastic cutlery inside the box, i.e. leading to contamination. We think it’s about time we test out the alternative cutlery options ourselves to see if one of three compostable companies we’ve chosen has a good, robust product.

The best alternative to plastic cutlery we found is the  RCPLA cutlery sourced from Vegware. RCPLA, standing for recycled compostable PLA, is  an incredibly low carbon alternative to other compostable cutlery (CPLA – compostable PLA cutlery), with Vegware stating that these products contain 51% less carbon than new PLA. The cutlery is durable and sturdy, and  performs just as well as plastic cutlery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CPLA (left) vs. RCPLA in Vegware’s black colour (right)

 

The compostable cold cup:

A huge contributor to the single-use plastic waste often seen for large businesses is the plastic cup. With many different uses, sizes and shapes, the plastic cup is incredibly versatile.

With PLA cold cups looking and feeling exactly the same as their plastic counterparts, the samples that stood out from all companies tested were the cups displaying slogans. The slogans provide enough information for employees using these cups to realise that they are not made from plastic, and therefore, help to overcome the challenge of correct after use disposal.

A good example is the PLA cold cup sourced from Biopac:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatives to the plastic salad box:

There are a number of different alternatives to the typical plastic salad takeaway box, ranging from the clear PLA container to the 100% kraft box. In comparison to the compostable takeaway boxes mentioned earlier as the cutlery’s new sidekick, the salad boxes are only used for cold food. They need to be leak proof, durable and compete with plastic products.

The kraft boxes were chosen by the Carbon Smart team as the best alternatives, with the main reason being they are more obviously a compostable product in comparison to the PLA lunch container that looks and feels exactly like plastic. Vegware, Biopac and Greengate all produce good kraft box products:

Vegware (top left), Biopac (top right) and GreenGate (bottom)

 

The main challenge for compostable products is their after-use disposal. The products highlighted in this blog  as the best alternatives have been chosen because they are of the higher quality products on the market, and they also stand out as being compostable.

With so many compostable products on the market that can rival any plastic product, businesses now have the opportunity to review their current procurement decisions and make the change to compostable alternatives. Businesses should be the first to make the swap to single-use plastic alternatives and start to become the solution to  the current global problem of plastics and the detrimental impact they have on the environment. Now armed with this review, is there any other excuse?