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What Is End-Of-Life In Packaging?


Written by envoPAP team

22nd July 2022

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3 minute read

“All good things must come to an end.” 

- Geoffrey Chaucer.

“ I disagree.”

-The Circular Economy.

Never before has our planet’s health occupied centre-stage in public discourse. With atmospheric CO2 emissions at its highest recorded level in human history,  regular climate disasters and rampant environmental pollution, it feels like we’re provoking doomsday. Just like a patient parent, the Earth always manages to forgive us, humans, for our travesties and provides solutions to all the problems that we create ourselves. The circular economy aims to eradicate waste and pollution by creating materials that can return safely to nature after their utility has come to an end. Instead of ‘take, make and dispose’ the circular economy asks that we ‘reduce, re-use, and regenerate’. This is our best shot at restoring and enhancing our natural environment, in fairness to our future generations.  

According to projections, the global Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry will be valued at $14 trillion in 2025. If the packaging materials used to serve this demand pollute our planet in the same way our current packaging does, the damage will be irreparable. Humanity must take cognisance of the decisive role packaging can play in the war against climate change by ‘closing the loop’. There are several widely practised end-of-life streams for packaging to be safely returned to nature and perpetuate the circular economy. Instead of putting used packaging into landfills and dumping it into our oceans, humanity needs to create and use packaging that complies with the following vehicles: (we hope this information inspires you to create an impact)

Recycling

The most popular end-of-life stream globally (not just for packaging), recycling involves the collection and repurposing of waste materials into new products. Instead of cutting down trees for timber goods and creating fuel-based plastic to pack items, we can give these scarce resources a well deserved permanent holiday. Paper, glass, concrete, certain metals and some kinds of plastic are the most recycled items worldwide. Using recycled raw materials, we can make a vast variety of common products like bags, watches, clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, electronic goods and more! As technology progresses, we will be able to make even more items using recycled raw materials and the recyclability of existing products is very likely to increase as well. With such a viable alternative to polluting our planet, recycling is just the right thing to do.  

The world produces over 2 billion tons of waste annually and the World Bank estimates this number to triple by the end of the century. Only about 13% of the current global waste is recycled and consumers need to play a more robust role in the success of the process. According to the same source, paper and cardboard (fibre-based) packaging constitutes 17% of total annual global waste. Unless one puts a paper cup into the designated bin, it defeats the purpose, so please keep an eye out for the ‘recycle’ sign. Governments should also do more to educate their citizens about end-of-life in packaging and invest in scaling the recycling infrastructure at home, so we can stop shipping our rubbish to poorer nations in the developing world, immediately. 

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Composting

This end-of-life stream could be described as the most engaging of them all, with the ability to turn anyone into a nature-lover. Organic waste like uncooked fruits & vegetables, tea bags, waste paper, virgin cardboard and more can be widely composted and enable users of these items to play a crucial part in climate conservation. These are everyday items that are accessible without any extra effort and one can either compost at home or takel to the nearest industrial composting site. Only items that are made using natural ingredients or materials can be composted (sorry plastic!), so not all kinds of packaging are compatible with this vehicle. Compostable packaging wasn’t in vogue until sustainability became a global buzzword and we realised just how bad the world’s waste problem is.

With corporations on a mission to win the race to ‘net zero’, prioritising sustainable packaging has become a no-brainer. Compostable packaging is full of benefits and fast becoming the established norm. User participation is a key element of this process because much like recycling, composting too requires waste segregation. However, seasoned composters say you only need to learn the basics once and it’s really fulfilling to do regularly. Composting merely accelerates the natural process of disintegration by creating opportune conditions like a certain level of humidity, oxygen and more, at an ideal temperature. A 2021 survey found that 83% of the British public would have their food packed in compostable materials rather than plastic. Isn’t that fantastic? 

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Marine Degradability

Most of us have seen horrific images of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its lungs and hopefully wondered how such crimes against our aquatic friends can be avoided. With most plastic packaging that doesn’t go to the landfills ending up in our oceans, restoring the marine ecosystem should be a high-priority. Any discourse on end-of-life in packaging is incomplete without taking our marine environment into consideration. To that end, materials certified for marine degradability make a compelling case for all packaging manufacturers and converters. While plastic packaging takes centuries to decompose, marine degradable packaging disappeares in a few months. This vehicle requires the least amount of end-user participation, apart from ‘inspiring’ brands to use this kind of packaging.   

Marine Degradability is one of the newest innovations in flexible packaging and has the potential to create the maximum impact (remember that 3/4ths of our planet is water). These materials don’t necessarily need to be collected separately, but perform differently in marine conditions. Like a plastic bag may trap fish fatally, a paper bag that is marine degradable will cause far less discomfort and disintegrate in a matter of months. Ultimately, the objective should be to stop all oceanic pollution. Until we are able to ensure that, the marine degradability certification certainly makes matters ‘less bad’.

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In the long run, intelligent end-of-life strategies can mitigate some of the damage caused by the linear economy and governments have already begun to understand that. Single-use plastic bans are increasing globally, just like the mandates for packaging to become more recyclable, compostable, etc. Corporations are responding to these calls reasonably well by announcing sustainable material switches and taking consumer sentiments into account by advertising the end-of-life credentials of their packaging boldy. No matter the causes, the effects are good for our planet. 

“Where there is ‘end-of-life’, there is hope”

- J.R.R. Tolkien & envoPAP.

Further Reading:

Is Paper A More Sustainable Flexible Packaging Material Than Plastic?

A Journey Through The Recycling Of Fibre-Based Packaging

Compostable, Biodegradable and Degradable Materials: What To Do With Them

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