It’s no surprise to anyone when we’re told we need to recycle more. Not just in the UK, but the entire world is aware that we have a pollution problem and urgent action is required across the board to reduce overall plastic packaging use to secure a future that’s free from plastic pollution. Individuals, businesses, governments, public bodies, and non-governmental organisations all need to work together to find innovative solutions.
Businesses are faced with a wide range of options when it comes to packaging, but it can be difficult to know what to choose and why. Functionality and cost are always the first port of call, but there’s a need to factor in sustainability considerations as well, now more than ever. These include the material source and how it’s manufactured, its transportation footprint, and the end-of-life options.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, including packaging design and considerations. McKinsey for one, believe packaging companies must rethink packaging design beyond ‘must-haves,’ and that three major requirements must be addressed: first, a good sustainability narrative; second, design with hygiene in mind, given recent heightened consumer-safety concerns; and third, design for e-commerce, ship-ready design, and direct-to consumer models.
One thing that‘s remained a constant is the demand for sustainable packaging. A recent survey of over 1,000 UK adults has shown that environmentally-friendly packaging remains a priority, and that sustainability concerns have actually increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unrecyclable packaging was seen as the biggest concern, followed closely by excessive packaging. Despite the fact that packaging has been seen as more important during the pandemic from a food safety perspective, paper has actually come out on top in terms of being thought of as the safest material.
Research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that the risk relating to COVID-19 transmission from surfaces is relatively low, particularly from FMCGs and parcels. A recent study showed the varying stability of the coronavirus on different surfaces – cardboard had one of the lowest levels of transmission, presumably because of its porous nature. With demand for paper packaging growing, it’s a great packaging option for businesses to consider, especially when it also has such strong sustainability credentials. Paper-based packaging can protect goods, provide product information, and can be both biodegradable and easily recyclable. This type of material offers many advantages as a packaging choice.
Unlike some other packaging materials, paper is sourced from a renewable resource: trees. The majority of globally produced paper comes from production forests and these certified plantations are examples of sustainable forest management (SFM), which are guaranteed not to have been converted from natural forests. SFM provides timber and wood fibre to a wide range of industries, which are the core materials for a circular economy. Choosing certified sources can help to ensure packaging comes from trees that have been grown and harvested responsibly.
Paper packaging is widely recycled globally and is collected at a household level, enabling the public to feel involved in tackling waste. The UK recycling rate for paper is 79%, the highest recycling rate of any material.
Paper and card made with forest fibres are a popular choice for packaging materials. However, such materials can also be the product of deforestation or poor forestry practices; a threat not only to the world’s forests, but also to business and brand reputation. Choosing certified materials helps to ensure the positive externalities associated with paper packaging are realised, securing a long-term source of paper and card, as well as demonstrating a commitment to responsible forestry to customers. Worldwide, there are two internationally recognised systems for the certification of sustainable forestry management and its supply chain – the Forest Stewardship Council® and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification™. While PEFC™ and FSC® share the same goals, they choose different routes to get there. Both FSC and PEFC operate a chain of custody process that traces material through the supply chain, from the forest to the end user, in a robust and transparent way. In practice, this means that when a product or packaging bears the FSC or PEFC logo, customers are assured that it has been made with material from responsible sources.
So, when you’re looking for a packaging supplier, use sustainable, paper-based products where you can, like corrugated packaging, and always make sure that the company is PEFC or FSC certified, to ensure you’re doing your part in contributing to a greener future for the UK and the rest of the world.