Paper or plastic - What's the more sustainable packaging solution?
Posted: 5 September 2022
The debate about paper vs plastic packaging has been ongoing for a long time. There doesn’t seem to be a black and white answer to the question about the most sustainable packaging solution since both materials have their pros and cons.
A good thing about paper is that the material is renewable and biodegradable. Although, a lesser-known fact is that it is more energy intensive than plastic. Manufacturing paper products produces approximately 3.5 times more greenhouse gasses than manufacturing plastic packaging. Also, harvesting trees results in the reduction of trees that could absorb greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.
The World Wildlife Fund also claimed that making pulp and paper requires vast amounts of water and that paper mills may discharge many pollutants into surrounding water bodies, which causes damage to aquatic ecosystems and threatens the health of people that live near the mill.
Coming to fossil-based plastics, it is quite clear that it is non-renewable. Also, most of these plastics are non-biodegradable and cause disturbance in various ecosystems by piling up for a long period of time.
While plastic packaging has a bad reputation, banning them and promoting solely paper products that are more energy intensive could also have damaging effects. Additionally, there are some appliances, for example for medical or food use, where we cannot refrain from using plastic products because certain hygiene standards have to be maintained.
Sustainable options for packaging
So, what is the solution?
Well, using no packaging at all is not a viable option. Research shows that if packaging is not used, it could lead to more usage and waste of resources. Also, packaging in most cases helps in increasing the lifetime of products.
In the end, we need to remember that the way we use these products can make a great difference. All stakeholders can ensure maximum utilization of resources through a circular economy. Hence, recycling of products must be promoted. Independent of the material used it is important to fit the packaging to the product in terms of size to reduce the shipment of air and to refrain from using unnecessary packaging products. Since paper is made from renewable resources and has much better recycling rates throughout Europe, using paper packaging where possible is a good option. Yet, there are some fields such as medical or food packaging where plastic is still the best option to maintain the high standards needed.