The term sustainability was coined as early as the 1700s, when Hans-Carl von Carlowitz, the mining administrator from Saxony, recorded the following in his book on the economy of forestry: “Take down only as much timber as the forest can handle! Only as many trees as can be regrown.” Until a few decades ago, however, only a small group of activists would have associated something concrete with the word “sustainability”. Today, things are different. Sustainability is on everyone’s lips, and companies, above all, are trying to act in a more economical, ecological, and socially sustainable manner. Not least because consumers are demanding it. The use of plastic, in particular, is always subject to criticism. Nevertheless, there is considerable contribution already being made for a better environmental balance, although it often goes unnoticed.
For example, plastic packaging, compared to packaging alternatives, is particularly light and can potentially save quite a bit of CO2 emissions during transport. Approaches for reducing the proportion of plastic have also established themselves extensively, such as the cardboard and plastic combination called K3® at Greiner Packaging. Wherever possible, the cardboard wrap around the plastic cup is made of recycled cardboard. And last but not least, barrier packaging contributes toward curbing food waste by increasing food shelf life.
Nevertheless, there are enormous challenges that neither a single company nor an individual industry can solve. The objective must be to keep plastic in circulation longer, with the key word here being “recycling”. Here, sensitivity with respect to proper disposal is what is needed. Organized waste sorting is not yet a byword in many countries. But even in Europe, where waste sorting systems have long been established, it is still difficult to get plastics routed to recycling – especially when it comes to packaging for the food industry. That’s because 100% pure recycling materials would have to be used for their production; one shampoo bottle, which is disposed of together with food packaging, makes the processing of residues extremely complex and difficult. Moreover, it is not yet clear what percentage of recycling material certain products can tolerate, how machines will respond to the new raw materials, or exactly how they impact the properties of the packaging. Only intensive research and long-term studies can shed light on this. As a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Greiner Packaging is facing this challenge together with other companies. We are likewise doing active research on bioplastics. Because even here, it is not yet clear what the materials mean for the process and the equipment. In addition, many bioplastics are very sensitive in their processing and can therefore not be used for all applications.
One thing is clear: Every individual, every company, every country is involved when it comes to contributing to reducing our ecological footprint. We must all work today for our tomorrow and the day after.