Credit: FatFace and Craig Eves Design
Compostable packaging is designed to break down over time and return to the earth as carbon dioxide, biomass and water.
If you work in B2C, you should check whether the material is home compostable or industrial. Not all compostable packaging is suitable for home composting.
Compostable packaging such as polyethylene wrap is usually made from recycled and plant-based materials, and is designed for industrial composting. You should include clear instructions so that the end-user can effectively dispose of it.
If you want to close the loop on your packaging, it is also worth weighing up the benefits of recycling in comparison to composting. For example, recyclable polythene wrap will go back into the supply chain, whereas degradable plastic won’t.
Used in the food industry, polythene packaging is a popular alternative to other plastics and paper because it is lightweight, adaptable, durable and offers excellent protection against adverse weather conditions. Plastics can also help food last longer and remove the need for preservatives.
Polythene weighs much less than other packaging materials such as plastics, paper, metal and cardboard, meaning it uses less energy to transport (and costs less). According to NI Assembly, a single lorry can transport the same amount of polythene bags as seven lorries full of paper bags.
The terms compostable and biodegradable are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. For example, compostable packaging doesn’t emit toxins as it breaks down, giving the earth more nutrients as it deteriorates, whereas biodegradable packaging releases toxins as it breaks down. Compostable materials also break down much quicker.
Packaging made from recycled materials
If you need to use bubble wrap, void fill packaging and cushioning, packaging that’s made from raw materials such as mushroom roots, paper or recycled material is a great option. Void fill packaging and cushioning is often used to fill in the gaps in boxes. This is usually used in conjunction with protective packaging such as bubble wrap.
In the UK it is estimated that out of the five million tonnes of plastic used every year, half of it is packaging.
Using packaging made from recycled plastic can help reduce this figure - especially if the packaging is then recyclable or compostable. This also falls in line with the UK’s plastic tax that aims to increase the use of recycled material in plastic packaging.
Don’t discount plastic
All too often plastic is vilified and blamed for clogging up landfill, destroying wildlife and being the root cause of all evil on the planet. However, plastic does have its place in the world and isn’t the villain.
Contrary to popular belief, a lot of plastic packaging is recyclable. Those iconic black and white ASOS packages or bright pink Pretty Little Thing Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) plastic bags that fill up the Royal Mail’s trolleys can be recycled, helping these big fashion brands move to closed-loop recycling.