Packages and closures for packaging

ECO cosmetic packaging – what is it? Part II

Continuation of Part I
Looking at innovative solutions, we need to anticipate their consequences.
Biopackaging or so-called eco-friendly packaging sells great, and may become the core of the product’s or brand’s entire marketing campaign. The question is, whether with the current knowledge and the ability to look ahead, this behavior is justified from the environmental point of view.
Will the balance of profits and losses be positive, and if so, for whom?

We should remember that classic plastic is a well-known material, with ever-growing recovery facilities.  Plastic sorting, recycling, reprocessing and the increasingly popular chemical recovery are common, whereas in difficult cases thermal recovery is also justified from an economic point of view.

Overall migration and barrier capacity
Both terms are well known in the packaging industry, and every manufacturer is well aware of the fact that without their positive results no packaging can be put to use.
Biodegradable materials still aren’t perfect when it comes to the barrier capacity. Oxygen, steam and fragrance substances permeate it. In the case of cosmetics, this can have a destructive effect on the medium and cause uncontrolled reactions inside the packaging that will alter the properties of the product inside.
For the same reasons, the overall migration, i.e. any penetration of packaging fragments to the medium, is dangerous.
In order to ensure high barrier capacity and keep the overall migration standards, other chemical substances which are expected to improve those properties are added to PLA. Often these are classic plastics, in the form of an additional coating inside the packaging, due to which the sugar cane packaging loses its original eco-friendly properties.
What is characteristic of bioplastics is their high brittleness and low elasticity, resulting in damage at every stage of the packaging life cycle – from production, through transportation to use. In order to change those properties, flexibility agents, plasticizers as well as colorants are, among other things, added to biomass. Each additive can adversely affect this material in terms of its suitability for further processing in biomass or burning. It will depend on its origin – whether it’s organic or synthetic. While organic additives shouldn’t interfere with any of those processes, the synthetic ones may do that. Burning even small amounts of plastics, and synthetic additives are examples of them, in incinerators that aren’t prepared for this, in terms of temperature and filters used, may damage the furnace structure and emit poisonous gases into the atmosphere. If, however, PLA packaging with added plastics goes through a biomass recovery process, it will disrupt it so effectively that the raw material recovered in such a way can’t return to the market.
Consequently, sometimes it’s worth sticking with what we know, rather than create seemingly environmentally friendly solutions.

Classic plastic with a new look

Managing plastic wisely means keeping a balance between increasing or decreasing the amount of plastic in products.
The single-use nature of things is no longer obvious. Consumers often have original ideas for using seemingly disposable items. The internet is full of simple and ingenious ideas for creating flower pot covers or storage boxes made of empty packaging.
PET bottles themselves become elements of house walls in Africa thanks to a project implemented in Western Sahara. PET bottle houses have proven to be ideal for the harsh conditions there, i.e. heat, torrential rains, and earthquakes.
Should Polish entrepreneurs who plan packaging for the European market think about bottle houses in Algeria? Certainly not, but they should know what happens to their packaging in countries and on markets on which it’s sold.
The recyclability of a product is a highly region-specific issue.
When introducing a specific material, the manufacturer should take into account how widespread recycling of this type of material is in a particular country.
It’s worth considering selling the same product in packaging made of different materials, e.g. on the Polish market in PET packaging, as this material is most often recycled here. But if we know about another destination for export of our products, we could think about using HDPE bottles, because maybe that's the country where recycling of this plastic is at its highest level.
If, on the other hand, our products are to be sent to a region where biomass processing works well, then we indeed should take into account packaging from this raw material.
Consequently, eco-design is extended to new aspects which area still rarely taken into account.
Packaging planning becomes more and more complex and requires eco-modulation at each stage.
The decision on the type of plastic, i.e. bio or classic, should be based on environmental, rather than purely marketing considerations.
Crude oil is continuously extracted for petrochemical purposes, and the production waste, which accounts for 4% of the total output. is used to make plastics, Furthermore, the plastics industry doesn’t have a lobby which could lead to an increase in extraction. We saw this during the pandemic, when reduced demand for fuel, primarily for planes, reduced fuel production and consequently blocked liquidity in plastics processing. Therefore, the claim that the plastics industry has any impact on and contributes in any way to oil production is a vast overestimation of the importance of the industry's voice.
There is also no other solution to manage the 4% of waste that would otherwise be left as another problem to deal with.  
Knowing the entire possible life cycle of plastic, we should adhere to and invest in it.