Dufaylite environmental impact of packaging
Dufaylite environmental impact of packaging waste

The true environmental impact of packaging


Packaging is defined as materials used to wrap or protect goods. Art, science and technology meet somewhere in the middle to create inventive ways to protect, transport, and sell items based on their individual requirements. But this comes at a cost.

It’s no secret that the impact of our lives on the planet is dramatic, and not in a positive way. Think about the amount of things you encounter each and every day that require packaging. This dramatic quantity of packaging creates extensive and varied environmental impacts, including both the effects of manufacturing the packaging, and the impact of disposing of it after use.

Plastics play a major part in our current environmental issues, and are often regarded as one of the biggest factors when it comes to the world’s environmental damage. The impact of plastic packaging on the environment is huge, but there are other issues at play that must be addressed if the true environmental impact of packaging is to be mitigated.

The cost of creation

Packaging materials use energy in their manufacture and distribution, as well as utilising natural resources, water, and electricity.

This process of creation can also result in byproducts of manufacturing, which cause unfortunate side effects. Take the creation of plastics - this causes toxic carbon monoxide and other undesirable organic compounds to be leaked into the atmosphere, bringing their own implications.

Unfortunately, many packaging products in the modern day are designed to be single use, and are typically thrown away after they’ve served their purpose. This means that most packaging is discarded and either buried in a landfill, or dropped as litter - carried along by wind and water and absorbed into the environment. This is an issue for a number of reasons; from the dangers to animals and wildlife, to the impact on humans ingesting food or water contaminated by these materials.

Looking at landfills

Disposal of packaging post-use is one of the major challenges. Take plastic, for example. Plastic packaging can be incredibly wasteful, with the majority of plastic waste thought to end up in landfills – due to poor product design, or a lack of infrastructure suitable for properly disposing of it. In fact, some stats show that while 9.2 billion tons of plastic have been produced, only around 9% has been recycled properly. On the whole, a sizable quantity of waste found in landfills is packaging waste – with much of it, like plastic and polystyrene, not breaking down quickly, if at all. This causes long-term environmental issues, with lasting implications for the planet.

Research has shown that around 90% of packaging waste is being sent to landfills. But it’s worth noting that landfill space is limited. In the UK alone we have approximately 500 landfill sites, with around a quarter of all waste ending up in these sites. While that may sound like a lot of landfills, think about how long they’ve been in use - and how often they get added to with the rate at which the general popular consumes items and products.

This makes it even more important for each and every industry to work together to reduce the number of single-use materials that they’re using, in order to lighten the load on waste management processes. Biodegradable and other planet-friendly materials can not only potentially create less by-products during production, but also reduce the amount of waste following usage. But this is just one route for people to keep in mind.

What can be done?

There are a few threads to consider when it comes to how to resolve the issue of environmental impacts from packaging. On the first hand, companies and businesses should do more to reduce the quantity of packaging that they’re using. This should involve taking into account alternative options, and thinking critically about how they can make better choices when it comes to the way that their products are packaged and transported.

When it comes to the materials themselves, increasing the recycled content of the packaging and utilising recycled materials where possible is a great step forward. Not only can this reduce the amount of packaging going to landfill, through giving it a new lease of life, but it also helps to reduce the amount of manufacturing byproducts that are created each time.

Finally, it’s important for more companies to think about the life of their packaging - and the products the packaging contains - after it's been used. From choosing materials that can be recycled, to offering in-house return and recycle schemes, or educating customers about how to safely and effectively dispose of items, there’s plenty that can be done. Now, it’s just about individuals and companies joining together and making a change, before we have a dramatic and lasting impact on the planet we all call home.

19 November 2020

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