The 5 biggest misconceptions about packaging
There are numerous myths and misunderstandings circulating in the world of packaging. These are often based on half-truths or outdated information. In our article, we shed light on the five most common misconceptions about packaging and offer a differentiated perspective.
Misconception 1: Reusable is always better than disposable
One of the main concerns in the area of climate and environmental protection is to increasingly transform the linear economy into a circular economy. The latter is about sharing, leasing, repairing and recycling existing products and materials for as long as possible – in short, refurbishing and reusing them. Reusable packaging should also contribute to achieving the goal of a comprehensive circular economy.
Reusable packaging is packaging that is designed and intended “to be reused several times for the same purpose after use and whose actual return and reuse is made possible by adequate logistics and promoted by suitable incentive systems, usually by a deposit” (Section 3 (3) VerpackG).
The assumption that reusable packaging is generally more environmentally friendly than disposable packaging is too simple and superficial. For example, a study by Lidl Germany shows that in certain cases the environmental balance of disposable packaging can exceed that of reusable packaging. Which packaging performs better ecologically depends on various factors. These include transport routes and the number of packaging cycles.
Misconception 2: Plastic carrier bags are worse than paper carrier bags
Many consider paper carrier bags to be more environmentally friendly than plastic carrier bags. At first glance, the former actually seem to be the better choice in terms of sustainability: they are made from renewable raw materials, are completely recyclable and can be easily disposed of with waste paper. What’s more, brown paper bags can be composted and therefore even used as a bin liner for organic waste.
In contrast, the oil required for the production of plastic (carrier) bags is a finite raw material and a problematic source of energy. Furthermore, plastic as an end product must not actually end up in the seas and oceans. This is why environmental organizations are calling for plastic not to be produced in the first place.
Even if the above points are factually correct, the widespread belief that plastic carrier bags are worse than paper carrier bags does not stand up to scrutiny. One fact is often neglected: paper production is enormously energy-intensive, which results in high CO2 emissions. Several life cycle assessment studies show that carrier bags made from recycled plastic often have a lower water consumption and CO2 footprint than paper carrier bags.
Important note: The problem that plastic carrier bags are often carelessly thrown away and blown away by the wind, causing them to end up in nature, of course remains.
Misconception 3: Plastic packaging is the main cause of microplastics
Microplastics are pieces of plastic that are smaller than five millimetres. The effects of UV radiation and friction cause plastic products – including plastic packaging – to break down into fragments and tiny to micro particles. It has long been known that microplastics pose various risks to the environment and health. As plastic packaging generally does not enjoy a very good reputation, many people almost automatically assume that it is also the main cause of microplastics.
In fact, microplastics generally come from other sources. Here is a list of the top 5:
1. tire abrasion
Note: Tire abrasion is by far the main source of microplastics. The rubber loosened by friction with the asphalt is distributed throughout the ecosystem in the form of microplastics. Abrasion is particularly high on winding roads, at high speeds and in stop-and-go traffic.
2. bitumen abrasion from asphalt
3. pellet loss during the production, processing, recycling and transportation of plastics
4. release during waste disposal
5. drift from sports fields and playgrounds (rubber granules, artificial turf, etc.)
Misconception 4: Compostable plastic is better than non-compostable plastic
“Compostable plastic” promises to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.
What sounds so “green” is in fact often a more or less empty promise. This is because after the biodegradation of compostable plastic packaging, there is usually no usable compost left over.
What’s more, supposedly compostable plastics are rarely truly biodegradable. During composting, they are usually only converted into CO2 and water – and further use of these substances is either impossible or does not make sense. This means that the raw materials from which the plastic packaging was originally made are also lost for further recycling.
The fact is that the composting of compostable plastic only works effectively under optimal conditions, such as those found in large-scale composting plants.
Misconception 5: Plastic is a bad packaging material
Plastic is generally frowned upon as an environmentally harmful material. It also has a bad reputation as a packaging material. All types of plastic are often lumped together.
Anyone who views plastic as a bad (packaging) material in principle is overlooking the diversity and different uses of plastics. Substances such as BPA and other plasticizers are often criticized. These play no role at all in beverage and food packaging made of plastic, for example. They are also rarely used in plastic packaging for other products. Conversely, plastic packaging often helps to keep valuable food fresh for longer.
The packaging industry is complex and dynamic. Simple assumptions and sweeping judgments often fall short. A differentiated view is necessary in order to understand the actual impact of packaging on the environment. Through education and factual information, myths can be debunked and a more conscious approach to packaging can be promoted. In a world where sustainability is becoming increasingly important, it is essential to make informed decisions based on facts and not misconceptions.