What hinders more efficient package handling?

– Garbage handlers that burn packaging instead of recycling it
– Regulations prohibiting the storage of waste
– Consumers because they do not know how to sort waste
– Manufacturers who do not know how to package their products in an environmentally friendly way?

Since we, as a printing company, cannot change regulations and consumer habits, then we can influence which packaging comes from our production line. That is why we are looking in the mirror and admitting that so far the aesthetic appearance, price, and practicality of packaging have been the factors we base our recommendations on. In order to change this and help our customers make more environmentally friendly choices, we talked to Kaupo Heinma, a specialist of the Ministry of the Environment, and Kristiina Dreimann, the head of TVO (Tootjavastutusorganisatsioon, Producer Responsibility Organization).
We asked them about how paper and cardboard packaging should be designed in order for it to be recyclable.

Regardless of how dedicated you are to being a friend of the environment, the most important thing for packaging is that it fulfills its purpose. Food packaging protects food from external influences and sometimes also from spoilage, the transport packaging must be strong enough to withstand the entire journey to the customer. Thus, it should be bore in mind that thinner paper is indeed more environmentally friendly than plastic, but if the packaging breaks before it reaches the consumer or allows the food product to spoil, preference should be given to a material that is more durable. Damaged goods and spoiled food, that is thrown away, also leave a significant mark on the environment.

For products that do not directly require plastic for packaging, packaging in paper or cardboard should be considered. In terms of production resources, plastic packaging can even have lower CO2 emissions in large quantities, but it is also important to look at what happens to this packaging after use. Recycling paper and cardboard is an easy and efficient process in most parts of the world. In the case of plastics, recycling is possible and feasible, but unfortunately more difficult due to the abundance of materials, inadequate labeling, and consumer habits.

There are also aspects of paper and cardboard packaging that make their recycling difficult or even impossible. For example, a laminate, a thin polymer film on the surface of the paper, prevents the efficient usage of machines in paper recycling. At the same time, lamination creates an opportunity to make paper or cardboard more waterproof, food-friendly or simply stronger. If it is not necessary to make the packaging waterproof or food-friendly, it would be advised to use another post-treatment, such as varnish or embossing, for an effective appearance instead of lamination. In addition to laminated packaging, packaging with plastic windows cannot be recycled. Therefore, we recommend either avoiding the plastic windows or printing instructions on the packaging that guide the consumer to remove the plastic window before disposing the rest of the packaging.

When it comes to environmentally friendly packaging, it´s lifespan is also a very important factor. Packaging that can be used multiple times is less of a burden on the environment. A good example is an e-commerce packaging, which can also be used to return products, or a product packaging, which can also be used to store the product. If using the packaging multiple times is not feasible, it should be considered whether the package could be given another function. For example, a large furniture box, that can be used to make a playhouse, or an Advent calendar with a coloring pictures printed on it. The creative approach is also likely to be highly valued by consumers.

The production of environmentally friendly packaging starts with the idea and thought process – what factors are important for this packaging and how to extend the life of the packaging. Then based on the set criteria one can choose the most environmentally friendly material and finishing possible. The instructions printed on the packaging should also not be forgotten, because it will help the consumer to put the packaging in the right recycling bin after use.

In order to turn our words into action, this summer K Print will help those who wish so to analyze the environmental friendliness of the packaging FOR FREE and, if necessary, develop better solutions.

Together for better packaging!