Incorporating renewable materials in packaging

Incorporating renewable materials is just one of the 10 principles within the Sustainable Packaging Design Guidelines that help companies and packaging technologists to design sustainable packaging that will meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets.

So what are renewable materials? Well, they are materials made of natural resources, composed of a biomass from a living source that can be sustainably grown and replenished continuously. There are a number of renewable materials available for packaging including sugar cane, bagasse, corn starch, wood fibres, bamboo, cotton, straw or biopolymers from a sustainable source. Biodegradable Paper Pulp Lunch Container Sugarcane

Incorporating renewable materials in packaging

Renewable materials, if sustainably grown and certified in the country in which the packaging is sold, can potentially offer lower environmental impacts than non-renewable alternatives. Undertaking a lifecycle assessment before you shift your packaging to renewable materials is paramount to ensure that the choice of material is an appropriate alternative. Another important factor in selecting renewable materials is the end of use (EoU) of the packaging; ie, will the packaging be able to be reused, recycled or composted?

Current renewable and recyclable fibres (cellulose, straw, grass) should be recyclable through existing paper kerbside recycling programs, although it would be important to have this verified.

Renewable and recyclable plastic are currently derived by converting sugar cane to ethanol to produce bio-polyethylene (Bio-PE), bio-polypropylene (Bio-PP) and bio-poly(ethylene terephthalate) (Bio-PET). These plastics being identical to fossil fuel plastics can be recycled through existing plastic kerbside recycling programs.

Renewable sourced bioplastics that are biodegradable come from sources like starch, cellulose, proteins, lignin and chitosan. Examples of these bioplastics are polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and also polyhydroxybutyrates (PHBs) and polyhydroxyvalerate (PHV). These bioplastics are currently not recyclable in kerbside collections and need to be certified for commercial composting (AS4736) to be accepted in some of the kerbside food organic collection programs.

In addition, it is recommended that all renewable material packaging is verified to local and international certifications such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) for timber/cellulose-based materials. Other renewable fibre and bio-based materials will need to be certified either home compostable AS5810-2010 or commercially compostable AS4736-2006. It is also important that renewable fibre-based packaging is certified to have ‘no added PFAS’, as this treatment is commonly used for water and grease proofing. Packaging that is certified to these standards will confirm to consumers that there are no forever chemicals or potential toxins in the material and that the pack can be reused, recycled and/or composted in the correct environmental conditions.

Some of the recent winners of the Australasian Packaging Innovation & Design (PIDA) Awards are using renewable materials in the packaging including sustainable milk cartons (Brownes Dairy), FSC rectangle paper containers (BioPak) and SMARTIES Paperisation range (Nestlé Australia).

Not only are we seeing an increase in entries in the PIDA awards that incorporate renewable materials in their packaging, but more companies are ensuring that the material is certificated to the appropriate standards and the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) is included on-pack. All of these changes are positive steps to meet the 2025 National Packaging Targets and to design packaging that can assist the circular economy.

Smarties global confectionery brand has switched from plastic bag and blocks formats to paper packaging and recyclable paper packaging. The materials were selected based on their acceptability in the Australian recycling infrastructure. The use of a water-dispersible coating allows for separation of non-fibre materials with the fibre backing, allowing recycling in the paper recycling centres.

The paper material selection takes into consideration product shelf life and manufacturing/supply chain efficiency, with the aim of matching that of existing plastic packaging.

The Smarties products, which are considered as sensitive, have been packed in paper packaging coated with a high moisture barrier, while still maintaining water-dispersible qualities. The maximum reduction in packaging weight has been achieved by reducing headspace where possible.

Claims on front of pack illustrate to the consumers that the pack has now transitioned to paper packaging. Using a clever graphic to indicate that the packaging underneath is produced using paper material, the claim “I’M PAPER” speaks to the consumer.

The front of pack also has a call to action to the consumers to “RECYCLE ME”, indicating that the paper material is recyclable. The call-out to “Be Smart” is a play on words on the Smarties brand which is an effective method to further engage consumers on the sustainability message. The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) is included on all packs to raise consumer awareness and ensure Smarties fans know how to recycle the packs.

The transition out of plastic packaging removes 20 tonnes of virgin plastic use annually in Oceania. Globally, this change has resulted in removal of approximately 250 million plastic packs sold globally every year.

With consumers becoming ever more conscious about their impact of the environment, the Brownes Dairy 1 L milk in Tetra Rex Plant-Based Craft cartons stands like a beacon of hope in the middle of the white milk supermarket shelf. The eye-catching packaging is a natural brown colour, fully renewable and made with renewable energy. The recent move to Tetra Rex Craft Plant Based drove a further weight reduction of just under 4%, taking further packaging out of the supply chain. Less packaging material is required to protect the same amount of milk, further enhancing the sustainability credentials of the carton.

To help, Brownes Dairy has incorporated the Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) into the pack design. The on-pack artwork provides clear information about its renewable source to aid consumer understanding and awareness of these unique cartons.

Plastic takeaway containers that are contaminated with food (think greasy curry, pasta and other oily foods) cannot be recycled and putting them in your recycling bin can jeopardise the entire bin of recycling.

The FSC certified rectangular paper containers have been created to replace the humble plastic container. They are renewable material PLA bioplastic lined, allowing them to carry hot, greasy foods without spoiling/breaking. The PLA bioplastic lining is made from rapidly renewable materials. The footprint of these renewable materials is smaller than that of traditional plastics derived from fossil resources — Ingeo bioplastic, for instance, has a footprint up to 80% lower.

Until now, using bioboard they have only been able to manufacture round paper bowls; however with new machinery and tooling, BioPak has been able to achieve the rectangular shape with the performance of a round paper bowl.

Industrially compostable to Australian AS4736 standards, they are independently tested and verified to completely biodegrade within 120 days in a commercial compost facility. The end product is a non-toxic, nutrient-rich compost.

Top image credit: Nestlé Oceania

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Incorporating renewable materials in packaging

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