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Choosing the right packaging material for a greener future  

Example: paper or plastic film   

The question of sustainability between film and paper packaging can be quite complex, as it depends on a number of factors, including manufacturing processes, the life of the material and recycling options.  

  1. Production effort  

Paper packaging: the production of paper is energy intensive and requires the use of large quantities of water.  

Plastic film packaging: plastic film production requires less energy and less water than paper production.   

  1. Recyclability  

Paper packaging: paper packaging is generally easier to recycle and compost, which gives it an advantage in terms of environmental sustainability.  

Film packaging: plastic packaging is currently more difficult to recycle. However, there is progress in the development of recyclable and biodegradable plastic films. With paper, on the other hand, seems to be slower as far as recyclability is concerned. However, progress in the removal of printing inks and adhesives can already be seen and smaller innovations are also still to be expected.   

  1. Protective function  

Paper packaging: paper does not always offer the best protection from moisture and gases, which can affect the shelf life of the product. Nor does it have the sealing ability to close a package tightly. However, paper can score points when opening a sealed or glued package.  

Film packaging: film packaging can provide a better barrier function, keeping the product fresh for longer and wasting less food, which can also have a positive impact on sustainability. Easy opening and resealing are also common features of film packaging today.  

To be able to make an informed decision, consider a life cycle assessment (LCA) that evaluates all environmental aspects from manufacturing to disposal. Typical parameters often used for simplification are the carbon footprint and the water footprint. These two values are intended to establish a comprehensible comparability. The smaller both footprints are, the more environmentally friendly the product is.  

However, sustainability consists of the three pillars of economy, ecology and social issues. All three pillars must be considered in a balanced way.   

An optimum must be sought between these partly competing aspects. In such complex decisions today, usually only the economic factor and the two footprints mentioned before are evaluated. However, work is being done on models that enable sustainability controlling – similar to financial controlling – at the push of a button.  

This is often still neglected in today’s discussion. Here, too, we initially focused only on environmental impacts and resource consumption.  

With this article, I would like to contribute again step by step to the objective discussion about the selection of packaging materials – to be continued.