How can we solve the packaging problem?

It’s been 80 years since initial production of polythene as we know it. Polythene was created purely by mistake in 1933, but the scientists at ICI hit on something very exciting, a very stable, mouldable, waterproof and semi-permeable material. At the event of World War 2, commercial production was quickly halted, secrecy increased, and polythene was used to make important insulation for cables for radar.

With mass production starting after World War 2, plastic in its various forms has never been bigger. We use plastic for a myriad of uses: Bags, food packaging, computer parts, medical supplies, farming, clothing, bedding, even park benches and replacement hips!

Recycle Bins - what goes where?

Since the 1960’s, plastic has evolved into countless different types, and with so many uses. In modern society there are so many different types of plastic, we don’t always know how to dispose of them correctly. Due to this confusion, it’s sometimes simpler to simply discard into ‘landfill’ waste.

Of course, this is not sustainable. Landfills are unsustainable, especially when plastic CAN be recycled, infinitely.

Plastic Explained.jpg

With plastic being present in so many areas of our modern lives, it begs the question: IS there a way of truly going plastic free, without negatively impacting our planet even further?

In the food industry, it’s indisputable that plastic keeps food clean, fresh, and free from unwanted bacteria. We are already moving in the right direction, by moving from lesser recyclable black plastic trays to clear ones. We know that plastic milk and fizzy drink bottles are also widely recyclable.

The matter of food waste is also an important one. Of course we can remove unnecessary plastic from certain food packaging (such as a tray AND a bag), but some food packaging prolongs the life of food typically three or four times longer than without any packaging. If the packaging is eradicated, are we looking at even more food going to waste?

Paper Bag

In the retail industry, we now have had the ‘carrier bag tax’ since 2015 in the UK. Whilst this has indeed changed the habits of shoppers, and resulted in around an 80% decrease in ‘single use’ carrier bags. We’ve replaced the thin (HDPE) carrier bags by using paper bags, or other ‘bags for life’.

The alternatives can be totally degradable and recyclable in forms of paper, cotton and jute, which is fantastic, however, we need to take into account the resources required to manufacture these alternatives (virgin paper uses thousands of gallons of water in manufacture). Cotton shopper bags need to be used around 20,000 times to equal the footprint of a single use HDPE carrier bag for instance.

It’s obvious that no packaging is not the answer. We need smarter packaging. Packaging that is streamlined in terms of recyclability, and more education in how to reuse all types of packaging sensibly.

Sugar Cane Polymer Packaging - a viable alternative

It's become increasingly clear that biodegradable plastic is not the eco-friendly solution to reduce our plastic pollution problem around the world. Not only can biodegradable plastic not be recycled (in a re-processing plant); when it degrades, it breaks into tiny pieces which, if it finds its way into the oceans, seriously affects marine life.

Ethically, polythene producers now turn to a viable alternative polythene product that's not only environmentally friendly, but also suitable for the recycling mix and for subsequent reuse. Certain products require polythene due to the nature of the protection required, rather than labour intensive paper and card. The answer is GreenPolythene.

Sugar cane processing results in a waste by product, of which ethanol is used to create a polymer that’s bio-based rather than oil-based (such as crude oil based polythene). During the growth of the sugar cane, the natural process of photosynthesis sees carbon captured. Initially, this raw material is carbon negative. As sugar cane is obviously a plant, it's totally renewable and won't deplete fossil fuels (such as crude oil, used for standard polythene), which is of enormous environmental benefit.

The production process inevitably generates carbon through factors such as manufacturing and transport, which means that by the time the bio-based polythene is produced it is actually carbon neutral. The Carbon Trust recently accredited an example of sugar cane based polythene bags as carbon neutral, confirming that it’s possible to nullify the effect of carbon emissions.

It’s worth considering some additional key points. The UK uses some 1 million tonnes of polythene films and bags every year. Using fossil fuel polymers to meet this demand costs the planet 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. By widely implementing GreenPolythene this figure could be drastically reduced.

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We're heading in the right direction, let's just not take our eye off the ball

Still at the forefront of people’s minds currently, and rightly so, the concern over the amount of plastic waste, where it goes and how we discard it, remains an important issue. However, there are glimmers of light in the darkness of how we deal with these problems.

The most important message to get across is to arm the consumer with the facts, rather than stick our heads in the sand.

We trust that the waste (not just plastic waste) we send for recycling will get responsibly recycled, be it into a park bench, children’s play equipment, or even more packaging. The reality is that much of it is simply shipped off to foreign countries, for them to deal with, and we can rest assured in the knowledge we have a certificate confirming we’ve ‘done well’ from the waste contractor. However, this article tells us otherwise:

It’s clear that we need to take full responsibility of our own waste, then we can fully appreciate the true cost of ALL types of packaging that we’re using. We live in a society that demands products and produce to be packed economically, cleanly, efficiently, hygienically, while maintaining brand awareness for the retailer. There are so many types of packaging around today’s marketplace, probably too many to recycle currently. However, a British company, Recycling Technologies, has invented a machine capable of recycling all types of the ‘hard to process’ packaging, back into a usable oil form, ready for either re-manufacture, or use in heavy freight shipping. More information here:

This shows a clear indication that something is being done to combat the problem of the amount of packaging waste we’re producing. Now we need to be more responsible in how we discard our waste.

It’s very easy to jump on the ‘banish the bag’ and ‘ban all plastics’ bandwagon, and simply ‘move’ over to the seemingly much more eco-friendly alternative of paper and card packaging. We run the risk of simply side-shifting the problem that is our throwaway culture, rather than educating the consumer into responsible reuse and recycling.

The biggest threat to our planet is simply the amount of carbon we’re putting out into the atmosphere. Increasing demand on paper, card, cotton and jute, in the backlash against plastic carrier bags, results in much higher levels of carbon emitted in the manufacture of these aforementioned alternatives. It’s a fact that a paper bag for instance is 4 times more damaging in its carbon footprint, to that of it’s plastic bag equivalent. Also worth mentioning is the millions of gallons of water required to process wood for pulp and paper production, and additionally similar amounts to process cotton for clothing and bags.

The message is clear, more work needs to be done by everyone, to reduce, reuse, recycle.

Should we really be avoiding plastic?

It seems to never be out of the news these days - the 'war' on plastic. There's now an island of waste floating around in the Pacific Ocean, twice the size of France. Of course this is very alarming news, and we need to take a long hard look at how we treat our planet. But what are the alternatives to plastic if we get rid of it, and are they actually as eco-friendly as we think?

First and foremost, the western world is actually pretty good at sending waste to the correct places. Since January 2018, China have stopped accepting imports of plastic waste, so Western world nations are already exploring different ways to recycle and reduce waste.

Secondly, only 0.28% of ocean plastic comes from European rivers, meaning further education is needed on waste disposal across the rest of the world, not necessarily in our own back yard.
Even in our own back yard, plastic waste accounts for on average 18% of household waste. Specifically, plastic bags account for 3.2% household waste, so we're doing well already. 

What we need to be careful of is focusing too closely on plastic, and taking our eye off the ball with regards to how much of the alternatives we're demanding, what else is being disposed of, and how. Let's face it, packaging is not going anywhere anytime soon, as we live in a world where things need to be delivered, drinks need to be taken away, and food needs to be kept fresh.  Here are a few facts on what packaging does what:

Degradable plastic and Biodegradable plastic
We're now familiar with degradable and biodegradable plastics, as they're offered in varying forms in today's shopping environment, but we're not experts in how quickly these plastics actually degrade, and what the best conditions are for degradation to occur!
Most importantly, we absolutely shouldn't be sending our degradable or biodegradable bags for recycling, as they upset the recycling manufacturing chain.
Degradable plastic has usually 3 or 4% of an additive called deg68 included in standard polythene film, making the film become overall less stable when subjected to light and heat, thus accelerating the degradation process down to around 18-24 months (compared to the approx 100+ years of standard polythene)
Biodegradable plastic is what you would find generally supplied to you by local councils, for food waste use. These bags are totally biodegradable and compostable, meaning they will totally disappear in landfill or compost, leaving only trace elements. These bags are generally made from corn starch material.
Degradable plastic and biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled. It can be re-used in it's usual form until not required.

Cardboard Cartons
Card and paper are an extremely viable and attractive alternative to plastic packaging, due simply to it's ability to completely degrade in any sort of environment. 
It is however more expensive to produce, and unit cost to end user is also expensive in comparison to plastic packaging. 
Also, the paper industry is the 4th largest in the world at producing greenhouse gases, meaning it's carbon footprint much outweighs that of plastic.

Cotton and Jute Bags
The surge in popularity of cotton and jute shopper bags can be seen as an admirable alternative to plastic bags. However, it has resulted in massive drain on resources in poor countries such as India, and crops are being substituted for Jute and Cotton, leaving less food for local people.  
Typically, a cotton or jute bag needs to be re-used 130 times to negate the use of 1x plastic bag. 

Plastic Bags
LDPE (Low Density Poly-Ethylene) and HDPE (High Density Poly-ethylene) are by-products of the oil refining process. Jute 4% of the world's oil production is used in the manufacture of plastics. Both types of plastic are generally used to make plastic bags and food packaging (some food packaging uses other types of plastic).
It takes significantly less in natural resources to produce plastic bags, and uses less energy, than to produce paper bags. 
At the end of life of plastic bags, they can be sent to recycling facility (usually via council household kerbside collection) to be recycled back in to polythene pellets, and re-used again to make any other plastic items.

So to summarise, surely the best option is not to totally eradicate plastic from our lives, but to send more of our used plastic to be recycled.
The term recycled is a fantastic one, because there are so many scenarios for recycling! Specifically for plastic bags, the simplest form of recycling is actually re-using a plastic carrier bag again and again. They can be used multiple times as a shopping bag, then they can be used as a bin liner. Even at the end of their usable life they can still be chipped down and recycled back into plastic pellets, and turned into a park bench (amongst other things)!


The importance of getting it right, first time.

When making plans to create a bespoke packaging design, there may be a thousand ideas running round your mind. Now is the time to get these ideas on paper. Yes, good old fashioned notepaper and pencil.

Thrash out the following requirements and how you want the ideas to come across:

  1. Name / Logo
  2. Contact Details
  3. Logos / Pictures
  4. Tag Lines
  5. Returns details 
  6. Space for labelling
  7. Barcoding

Once you've got an idea of how any or all of these items might appear, then you're ready to get into contact with us to discuss getting the idea made into reality. We will take your ideas, along with any logo files you might have, to produce a digital proof prior to printing. 

We'll be happy to assist with any suggestions you might require, whether it be to add or remove details, placement of design, or any other additions we might be able to offer.

Most importantly, we will check and double check all designs for errors, be it in logo, picture or text, prior to manufacture. The last thing we need is to have to discard an entire production due to an oversight!

It might sound silly, but it can happen to the best of us, so we might ask for clarification of specific spellings occasionally! ASDA recently had to scrap an entire run of their 'bag for life' due to a misspelling!


Still unsure if this is an intended mistake!!

Still unsure if this is an intended mistake!!

Moths will save us from Plastic Bag waste! Or will they...?

Exciting news came out of research in Spain this week: certain moth larvae are able to consume plastic bags, leaving no residue and significantly cutting down the seemingly endless lifespan of the much derided carrier bag.

Now, before we all head out into the streets rejoicing, let's take a moment to 'digest' this news.

The Greater Wax Moth is normally (as it's name suggests) quite happy eating it's way through beeswax, much to the annoyance of beekeepers across the country. They are also bred as fishing bait commercially. It was found that when left amongst LDPE (Low density poly-ethylene, or plastic) bags, they would eat their way through with ease.

Naturally, you would immediately think that these 'wax worms' can be reproduced in massive quantities, to enable them to munch through our tonnes of plastic waste currently in landfill. it could spell the end of shock photos of Turtles chewing on plastic carriers, we could even go back to getting carrier bags for free in the supermarkets! However, there are more than a couple of significant 'holes' in this idea.

Plastic waste is a very general term. When you mention plastic waste, you immediately think of Carrier bags, then possibly plastic bottles and general plastic packaging further down the line. Plastic waste made up only 1.6% of our household sent-to-landfill waste in 2012. Any notion that a wax moth larvae will be able to consume anything other than plastic carrier bags (such as more rigid plastic bottles and food packaging) is totally unfounded, and unrealistic. This also leaves the question of what is in the other 98.4% of our landfill waste? We'll address that another day.

To allow these 'super larvae' to combat plastic bag waste, you would need billions of them chomping away 24/7. At the rate given in the recent study, one wax worm would typically get through 2 milligrams of plastic per day. If we release billions of the larvae into the outside environment, you can pretty much wave our bee population goodbye. They are a parasite to bees, plain and simple. 

When last measured in 2014 (before carrier bag tax introduced in England), plastic carrier bag waste amounted to only 0.2% of all landfill waste. This begs the most important question: If wax moth larvae are to be used to 'consume' this tiny percentage, what percentage of the UK bee population will suffer?

So in conclusion, it's time to put the bunting away. We're still stuck with the waste. For now.

A much more sensible option is to carry on recycling your carrier bags. Remember, they are still a much more eco-friendly option than Paper (as plastic is a by product of Oil refining) and once they've been used as a carrier bag, they make an excellent bin liner!


Bag Eating Caterpillars? 

Bag Eating Caterpillars? 

It's time to dispel the carrier bag myths

It's been over a year since the UK government brought in the 5p carrier bag tax in England, catching up with the rest of the UK in charging for single use carrier bags in large retailers.

There's no doubt about it, since October 2015 there has been a definite surge in carrier bag 'awareness', whether that means simply forgetting your reusable bags and cursing yourself, or indeed refusing a carrier bag when offered one, and struggling along the town centre with armfuls of shopping.

We've also seen a noticeable change in demand from the big players in recent years. Tesco and Morrison supermarkets have both recorded drops of around 80% since the charge was introduced.

Retailers are also expected (but not legally bound) to donate the proceeds of the charge to good causes. From October 2015 until reporting deadline of May 2016, for example Asda supermarkets donated a very healthy sum of £2.5m to good causes.

There are very important additional factors to think about when looking at these statistics. While the net proceeds of the carrier bag charge go to good causes, the VAT payable makes a very favourable sum to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. From the full 1st 6 months report published online* we can see that the tax man has pocketed £8.75m. As this is money previously unavailable before carrier bag charging came into force, questions need to be asked as to where this money is being spent. 

Are we as a nation becoming more carrier bag aware? On personal family experience, the 'bags for life' are being forgotten less these days, but there are always times when a bag requirement isn't considered, or an impulse purchase is made, and the bag charge is incurred. The resulting carrier bag is then added to the burgeoning 'stash' of bags somewhere in the garage, inevitably being thrown out in due course when the pile becomes too large. This doesn't really fall into the eco-friendly requirements we're reminded of when it comes to the 'ban the bag' mob. 

So over a year on from Carrier Bag Charging, there's still a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding carrier bags. Here are some facts:

1)  From all household waste, before the carrier bag charge, 0.2% was made up of plastic bags.
2) Tesco saw an increase in pedal bin liner sales in Ireland of 77% in the first year since carrier bag charging was implemented.
3) WRAP survey from 2005 found that 59% of people re-use all their lightweight plastic carrier bags again, whether it be for bin liner, or re-use to transport shopping.
4) 2014 saw us use 6.5 billion carrier bags. The carbon footprint of this, equates to around 2 hours of flight activity at Heathrow Airport.
5) There is no real risk to sea and wild life from plastic carrier bags. Far greater dangers come from plastic microbeads, nets, ropes, fishing gear and strapping bands.

This final fact is the most unnerving. For years we've been led to believe** that plastic carrier bags are solely responsible for killing hundreds if not thousands of marine creatures around the world. This is simply not true. From several news articles at the time, the public have been told that around 8 million tonnes of plastic was making its way into oceans around the world. PLASTIC. Not plastic carrier bags.

Of this 8m figure, they very conveniently omitted:

  • Microbeads, found in several beauty products, and made of tiny indigestible and easily ingestible plastic
  • Plastic bottles
  • Food packaging
  • Plastic packaging (including polystyrene)
  • Coffee cups (presumed to be eco-friendly card, but containing high elements of plastic)
  • Industrial waste from overseas factories

A Marine Conservation Society report made in 2015 showed that plastic drinks bottle littering was up 43% on figures from 2014. While media reporting focussed on the 'plight' of carrier bags, we took our eye off the ball of the real overall problem of littering and waste. 

Now the carrier bag charge is in full swing, we can't expect the fee to ever be revoked or removed in the future. However we maintain that the humble carrier bag is still as necessary today as it has always been, and future technologies in creating a cost effective, environmentally friendly bag continue.