‘Bioplastics Are Not A Viable, Long Term Greener Packaging Alternative!’

By Adair Simpson, Commercial Director, Cambrian

Plastic pollution is a very big problem for our planet and I make no bones about it. We have a global climate emergency on our hands and need to be working tirelessly to find more eco-friendly packaging alternatives.

One such alternative is bioplastics – usually made from starch, vegetable fats and oils, agricultural waste and wood chips – and biodegradable plastics (plastics that are combined with an additive to make them break down quickly). Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics are often hailed by many as the answer to the sustainable packaging conundrum. 

At Cambrian HQ, we looked into bioplastics as an eco-friendly packaging solution. Yet while I acknowledge that they have potential, there are grave concerns regarding their compatibility with recycling processes that mean, in my mind, bioplastics are not a viable long term greener packaging alternative. 

In addition, bioplastic material is seen as eco-friendly, but in fact packaging and indeed other items manufactured from this material still form part of the littering problem and there are global concerns that land used to produce crops for processing into polymer should be growing food.

At Cambrian, we believe that the collection and reprocessing of conventional plastic waste to be further used in the manufacture of plastic packaging is the way forward. 

In the last few years, we’ve made significant strides in increasing the recycled content in our packaging, particularly our bottles, and many of our products now contain at least 30% PCR (our Zero PPT range). Our brilliant Ecycle™ range – which includes bottles, spray bottles, pails and a 5Ltr jerry can – contains 100% recycled content. All these products are exempt from Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT), which helps our customers to cut business costs, while also being kinder to our planet. 

Technology also has a huge part to play in creating an environmentally sustainable future. Disruptive technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are on the rise, and have the power to revolutionise the packaging industry, particularly when it comes to boosting the efficiency and precision of our recycling processes.

When we exhibited at the Packaging Innovations Show in February, I was struck by the vast array of innovative technologies that were on display and the brilliant work that so many of our colleagues are doing to try to find cleaner, greener packaging solutions.

However, it’s clear that we are a long way from being able to use many of these technologies in our everyday lives, and that there are many pitfalls that need to be ironed out when it comes to using technologies such as AI. 

We also have to be realistic about greener packaging alternatives and the very real barriers for businesses, such as product compatibility and cost. Companies that are shifting from plastic to other alternatives such as paper are often having to pay twice as much, and until the technologies improve enough in terms of materials and the production of alternative materials, then I think plastic packaging is the only long term solution.

As your next-gen packaging supplier, we are continuously looking for ways to improve our products and to supply the most cost effective, sustainable packaging solutions to our clients. The increase in regulations and legislation (such as Extended Producer Responsibility – EPR) and the rise in PPT (to £217.85 per tonne from April 1st), is undoubtedly encouraging companies – including Cambrian – to adopt more sustainable packaging solutions and the number of recyclable products on our shelves is increasing all the time.

However, we still have a lot more to do as an industry and as a society – and our governments also need to do more – before we can say that our recycling and waste disposal processes are truly sustainable. 

To mark Global Recycling Day last week, the President of the Global Recycling Foundation (GRF), Ranjit Baxi remarked that we need to harness the power of technologies such as AI to revolutionise the recycling industry. There’s no doubt that technologies have a big part to play, and those in positions of authority also need to do more to pressure recycling companies to develop efficient processes that are capable of handling mixed waste on a large scale. Recycling infrastructure not just in the UK but across the globe needs to be markedly improved to meet the demands of an environmentally sustainable future.

Making sure that people are educated about recycling and the responsible disposal of waste is also crucial. Clearer labelling and education about what the resin ID codes on packaging actually mean can help ensure that people are aware of how to recycle everyday items correctly and that they’re making a valuable and continuous contribution to creating a sustainable future for generations to come.