When we talk about sustainable packaging, we have to be clear about what sustainability means:
Sustainability refers to the responsible use of natural resources so that, just as we get to enjoy those resources, future generations will also be able to use them, meaning that we satisfy our current and future needs. According to a study by the Smithers Pira consultancy and Procarton, packaging is considered a strategic element for improving business results by 96% of brands. Furthermore, when it comes consumer choice of packaging, the use of materials that are recyclable, renewable, lightweight, and with a minimal environmental footprint are becoming increasingly important.
Is paper an alternative for sustainable packaging?
Paper packaging (including paper, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, cartons and bags) is often the option for sustainable packaging. The key lies in their raw material: wood fibre, which is a renewable resource and also the most recyclable of all packaging materials.
Paper is the most recyclable packaging material
Recyclable packaging is a priority for consumers, and product design and the choice of sustainable materials is increasingly becoming popular. The paper industry has been recycling for centuries, and the ease with which paper can be recycled is an increasingly appreciated quality. The paper industry has understood the importance of recycling this material for centuries, turning this process into an increasingly valued business attribute.
Recycling is ecologically and economically sustainable. In addition, recycled paper is a vital raw material for the production of paper itself.
According to datos Eurostat data from the European Commission, an average of 67% of packaging was recycled in 2016. For paper and cardboard, the recycling rate is 83%, the highest of any packaging material.
Official recycling rates are currently based on the weight of the materials sent for recycling. It is estimated that the net loss is approximately 14% for paper and cardboard and 40% for plastics.
According to Eurostat, the recycling rate for containers in Europe in 2017:
- Paper and cardboard packages 41%
- Plastic containers 19%
- Glass containers 18%
Paper and cardboard are the materials preferred by consumers
Most customers, when they choose a product, take packaging into account. This is because packaging can be a source of detailed information and adds value to the product, helping the end customer choose one product over another.
The material can also be a reason for choosing a product. According to a consumer survey in the United Kingdom, 47% appreciate the lightness of paper (for plastic it is 22%). The same survey revealed that 37% feel that paper packaging is safer and easier to use, and 36% find it easier to open and close. Nearly half (48%) prefer the “texture and feel” of paper and cardboard over other packaging materials, and around a third of consumers (36%) prefer paper as a packaging material because it is more complete and practical.
The survey indicates that 87% of EU citizens are concerned about the environmental impact of plastics (74% are also concerned about their impact on health), and 94% think that industry and retailers should make an effort to reduce plastic packaging.
In conclusion, it could be said that paper packaging should be the choice of the majority of businesses. Currently, environmental awareness has caught on in our everyday lives, and consumers appreciate packaging based on natural products made with renewable materials, as is the case of paper.
As an example, we can observe the trend of large corporations to invest in replacing plastic with cardboard.
- Two Sides survey of 500 UK consumers, January 2018.
- European Commission, A European Strategy for Plastics in