It's a scary thought but one day this will be the reality when the worlds oil supply runs dry. So what will be the outcome, how do we plan for the inevitable? The packaging industry has turned a corner in the last few years in terms of innovation and sustainable practises, but are we doing enough? There are still big barriers in the way to making 100% recycled packaging mainstream, some of which are related to cost and others such as food health and safety.The fact though still remains that there must be change, take a look at just a few of these statistics:
- 8% of Oil is converted into plastics
- Over 50% of packaging is plastic
- Oil has increased in price 500% since the 1990’s (1960’s - $4/barrel, 1990’s -$15/barrel, currently - $112*/barrel)
- Every 4 barrels of oil we’re consuming today, only 1 new barrel is being discovered
100% recycled- The future of manufacturing
The use of oil is obvious when looking at plastics but it is also used in lamination, inks and other processes. On a positive note, there are some companies taking the helm with recycled packaging and using alternative materials. Innocent use 100% recycled plastics throughout their smoothies range which is a huge step in the right direction and recently Allied Bakeries has announced it will be introducing 100% recycled packaging on its Kingsmill Little Big Loaf and Crusts Away ranges. The new packaging will be made using clean off-cuts from the bread bag making process..
“By developing a way to recycle our packaging off-cuts we will save 1.4 tonnes of CO2 for every 1 tonne of recycled film made,” explained Allied’s category director Guy Shepherd.
Both the Little Big Loaf and Crusts Away ranges have been designed specifically to minimise wastage. The Little Big Loaf offers fewer slices for smaller households, while the Crusts Away range has been developed especially for lunchboxes, sandwiches and for children who don’t like crusts. The 100% recycled packaging initiative forms part of the firm’s on-going commitment to minimise its environmental impact.
It's this type of innovation that will need to be commonplace in 50 years time - the rule and not the exception. The Allied story is an example of looking at a small detail in the process such as cut offs and having a huge impact on the environment and waste.
Alternative materials - A sweeter way to sustainability
Coca-Cola have just this week announced that all of its Dasani brand water bottles and Odwalla single serve juice bottles will now be made from PlantBottle® packaging. The single Odwalla bottles will be made from 100% plant-based high density polyethylene plastic, while the PET bottles for Dasani will be made with up to 30% plant based materials.
According to Coca-Cola, 2.5 billion PlantBottle packages were available in nine countries in 2010, for this year (2011) that is expected to double to more than 5 billion in 15 countries.
Currently, PlantBottle packaging is made using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil, the only source widely recognized globally for its unique environmental and social performance, according to Coca-Cola. Brazilian sugarcane is primarily rain-fed and industrially grown on abundant, arable land using organic fertilizers. The plantations from which PlantBottle materials are sourced are located far away from Amazon rain forests, and their impact on biodiversity is reduced due to advanced farming practices and sound public policy.
PlantBottle packaging is entirely recyclable and can be processed through existing systems. This ensures PlantBottle packaging can be repeatedly used, recycled, and reused.
An American based company Whole Tree has been researching uses for coconut husks for about two years, and recently partnered with packaging firm Compadre to design and test different uses for coconut-based materials. "Oftentimes, packaging is single use," said Blake Mosher, executive vice president of Whole Tree. "We think there is some significant opportunity using our material for multi-use packaging." Around 10 per cent of the worlds coconut husk is being used for fibre extraction, amounting to an estimated 0.5 million tonnes. The husk is used to provide packaging materials for a variety of purposes, with its naturally biodradable properties it may well help many packaging providers find more environmentally friendly materials. The company has developed a nonwoven process for combining coconut fiber with thermoplastic to create a composite material it says it strong, stiff and better for forming shapes than other natural fiber composites.
Mosher said the company is focusing on using the material to make packaging that goes inside boxes, primarily packaging that is formed to fit around products like electronics. Using coconut fibers to make outer packaging is still in the early research and development phase.
I was also recently given a link to an entry into the D&AD awards using Coconut Husks as a form of outer packaging for the Body Shops range of moisturisers. It's encouraging to see that the next generation of designers are prioritising and thinking of new environmentally friendly packaging.
These are just some examples of the sustainable developments in packaging and how we can use natural resources in different and eco-friendly ways. If retailers, packaging suppliers, designers and even students collaborate, then real and useable solutions can come to the fore and be a viable commercial asset, rather than what is a currently a small niche market.