Paperboard or Plastic?
Until the tidal wave of claims, facts and guidelines about "green" packaging are sifted, sorted, and verified, it is going to be a confusing world for converters and consumers. In fact, 98% of over 2,200 North American products recently reviewed committed at least one act of greenwashing.
Petroleum products are here to stay (until we run out), and in some cases, using plastic will provide a practical solution for consumer packaged goods. However, mention sustainability and you'll find a lot of wild, spurious claims being made in the marketplace.
For instance, in September of 2009, Food Production Daily reported about a study performed by Allied Development Corporation comparing the carbon footprints of PET versus glass or aluminum bottles. The report was funded by Husky Injection Molding Systems. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that plastic was more environmentally friendly than either of the other two substrates.
Two days later, the British Glass Manufacturers Confederation (BGMC) responded that Allied's claims were defective and flawed. Their report, BGMC director general David Workman maintained, stopped short of considering what happens after the container is used, and was therefore not a true and fair life cycle analysis. "For its conclusions to be taken seriously," he said, "it would have needed to have been a full "cradle to cradle" exercise--something that the plastics industry has shied away from, and for good reasons."
Your clients are going to need help educating their own customers about which way to turn so arm yourself with as much verifiable information as you can.
Less Is Not Always More
We hear a lot about the weight of a product's package as if it were the sole criterion for determining sustainability. While less weight certainly helps reduce freight costs …
But the facts are that in 2011, a record 66.8% of the paperboard packaging waste generated by Americans in 2011 was recycled (2010 EPA Report). In addition:
- Distribution is only one of the six phases in the life cycle of a sustainable package.
- Paper mill wood waste and byproducts are converted into energy, supplying 2/3 of the energy required to produce paperboard. (Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry)
- When plastic's bulk is considered, less weight may not even mean less space in a landfill.
- Over 30 millons of paperboard and corrugated packaging were recycled.
- From 1990, the amount of paper sent to landfills has decreased by 55%.
- 54% of all municipal solid waste was dumped into landfills.
- Since 1990, paper and paperboard discarded into the waste stream as a percentage of the total has been cut in half.
- In the same period, plastic as a percent of the total in the waste stream has almost doubled.
- 71.3% of all paper-based packaging was recovered; only 13.5% for plastic.
Why such a difference? Paperboard is readily and easily recycled. But there are 7 major grades of plastic, some of which are difficult to recycle and most cannot be intermixed. The issues regarding the use and re-use of plastic packaging are complex.
10 Generations from Now