Packaging the Future: Could Paper Take Plastic’s Place?

by , 05/23/11

paperlite, packaging the future, paper v. plastic, paper packaging, plastic packaging, green packaging, eco packaging, green packaging design, packaging designIn our convenience-obsessed culture, no matter how many articles about slow food are passed along online or liked on Facebook, fast and easy vittles are still king. And most everything fresh in supermarkets (think salsas, cheeses, fruit salad, hummous and yogurt) is kept in plastic containers, some of which are recyclable, and most of which are not. Even our cans are lined with plastic coatings – and now that they have been found to leach BPA into food and beverages (which is enough of a concern that even Coca Cola’s shareholders are demanding a change), I have been avoiding them, which ironically means more plastic containers. But what if there were an inexpensive, renewable alternative?

Photo via: Chicago Paper Tube Company

For the last year, I have been using wax paper sandwich bags (or these cool Baggu ones that are reusable for drier things) to carry my lunch on the train, and I always bake using parchment paper; I often wrap the baked goods in the paper afterwards. I also use paper bags instead of plastic if I have to have a disposable sack of some kind. But these are my personal choices, and though they matter, institutional, market-wide changes matter more.

Paper is made from a renewable resource and will eventually biodegrade; it’s also not made from oil and is lightweight. There is now a growing number of paper packages, and plastic/paper hybrids appearing on the scene. Paperlite packaging, one of many products made by Flextrus, based in Sweden, is used to keep deli products like cheese, or sliced meats fresh from transport through consumption. It’s made from a mixture of FSC-certified paper and plastic, and is thermoformable, which means it can take different shapes easily under heated conditions (important for flexibility) and allows it to be used in a number of shapes and sizes. It can be printed on, and can be lighter than a plastic alternative (meaning lower fuel costs). Most of the time, the top of the container is a thin plastic sheet which is sealed on top of the Paperlite base. While not biodegradable due to the plastic content, this is an interesting hybrid product that cuts down on oil consumption (used to make plastic, and also to transport heavier items).

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1 Comment

  1. lazyreader May 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Isn’t paper heavier than plastic. That’s why we use Styrofoam packing peanuts. One proposal was to use popcorn as a substitute for packing peanuts. But that proved much heavier. In the early 1990s, starch-based packing peanuts were developed as a more environmentally friendly alternative. The starch in the peanuts comes from crop-based sources rather than petroleum-based polystyrene, and is non-toxic. One of the first brands of biodegradable peanuts, Biofoam, is made from the grain sorghum or corn starches. Being biodegradable and nontoxic, they are also safe for humans and pets to ingest accidentally. However, they are not produced in food-safe conditions, and are not recommended for eating. Also, during the manufacturing process, the nutritional value is removed from starch-based packing peanuts. So let the markets find which is best. The free market gives us better……………everything.

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