What is eaten in five minutes does not need packaging that lasts 200 years.
The ability to preserve food for many months using modern packaging is a major step forward in the food industry. But does this durability really have to pay the high price of environmental compatibility? After all, the packaging is not supposed to keep the food fresh for 200 years. Most plastic packaging has a lifespan of around 4 months. After that they are disposed of. This disposal is very different depending on the country. Even in Germany, more than half of the waste from the yellow sack is used for thermal recycling, i.e. incineration. In this article you will learn more about recycling quotas, alternative packaging materials and what is actually so disadvantageous about conventional packaging materials.
Germany – the recycling world champion?
A huge proportion of the plastic produced is used for packaging. And these are almost always single-use packaging. Germany has been celebrating itself as the recycling world champion for years. But the title is deceptive! If one deducts the process losses and waste exports, the recycling rate is not the stated 39%, but only around 19%. However, this material is mostly of rather poor quality and can rarely be used for the production of new packaging. Unfortunately, the majority (about 61%) of packaging in Germany is thermally recycled. Significant proportions of these plastics listed as “recycled” are exported and often end up in the oceans or in large landfills. According to the Plastic Atlas, about one truckload of plastic ends up in the world's oceans every minute. And Germany, as the world's third largest waste exporter, also has something to do with it.
What is plastic anyway?
It's actually not that easy to answer. Plastic (aka plastic) is not clearly defined. In general, however, one can distinguish between conventional plastics and newer bioplastics. Conventional plastics are usually made from fossil raw materials. In the process, carbon chains are chemically bonded to one another in such a way that a wide variety of properties are created in the material. These properties are then supplemented with so-called properties in order to make further changes to the material. Examples are plasticizers or pigments. This very large variance in the plastics makes recycling enormously difficult, because this only works really well if it is sorted. Most plastics continue to be sent for thermal recycling. When burned, the additives or other plastic components can then produce toxic gases.
We have already written a blog post on bioplastics . Since you can quickly lose track of all the definitions, we always stick to the definition of the organization “A Plastic Planet” in our communication.
In summary, it can be said that plastic is not just plastic - there are an incredible number of different types, some of which are better and some less recyclable. Plastic in the classic sense is very durable and after a long time in nature simply breaks down into smaller particles, which can then lead to various types of damage in the ecosystem in the form of micro- and nanoplastics.
The problem with conventional plastic and aluminum packaging
The main problem with plastic and aluminum is the implementation of high-quality recycling in practice. Although aluminum is often referred to as “infinite” recycling, it should be said again about practical implementation: Similar to plastic, there are an enormous number of different types of aluminum that differ greatly in their properties. Here, too, it is difficult to sort everything during recycling in such a way that only the same types merge together in a high-quality way. Therefore, with aluminum as with plastic, recycling is usually associated with a decline in quality and some process losses.
With aluminum there is also the problem that the primary production is extremely energy-intensive. Because aluminum is only found in nature bound in the raw material bauxite, the pure aluminum first has to be separated from the bauxite in chemical processes, which is very laborious. This also produces the toxic by-product “red mud”. This is deposited in huge basins and can no longer be processed. Roughly the same amount of red mud accumulates per ton of aluminum.
Both materials are therefore associated with various environmental problems during extraction and recycling.
What does our sustainable packaging look like?
Our packaging material belongs to a modern sub-category of compostable composite materials, which consists largely of renewable raw materials. There are three layers in total: starch foil, cellulose foil and paper. Each layer fulfills a specific purpose, such as the barrier properties to protect the chocolate or the processing during sealing (closing). The material is certified by TÜV according to European standards as home and garden compostable and provided with the Plastic-Free-Trustmark by the independent organization "A Plastic Planet". This means that the packaging may be disposed of on a well-managed compost site and will decompose there within at least 12 months.
With the help of ecotoxicological tests, the certification checks that there are no negative effects from the decomposition of the packaging in the compost. The compost can therefore be used for fertilization without further ado. Unfortunately, the packaging may not be disposed of with organic waste. This may lead to confusion at first, but it is simply because the organic waste plants in Germany and their composting cycles are very different.
As a result, it cannot be guaranteed that the time in each plant is sufficient for the packaging to decompose. In addition, the garbage collectors cannot immediately distinguish between compostable packaging and conventional plastic packaging with the naked eye. A good example here are also the organic waste bags. Ultimately, to be on the safe side, all packaging materials are then laboriously sorted out of the organic waste. That's why we recommend throwing the packaging into the usual yellow bag. There, packaging in this size range is sorted out directly for incineration in almost every plant. Our packaging does not contain any harmful additives that can be released during incineration. In addition, it has a relatively high calorific value, so that energy can still be recovered from the packaging during thermal utilization. Of course, this is not optimal in terms of the circular economy, but in our opinion it is the lesser evil in the balance. In order to improve this, we are involved in the Circular Packaging Initiative for better and uniform recycling of compostable packaging in our waste management.
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