With many brands and retailers introducing sustainable packaging, you’d be forgiven for not fully understanding what each are and how to deal with them. As important as marketing about the eco-friendliness of packaging may be, it’s more important for you as consumers to understand the statements so you can make informed choices, and to use and dispose of packaging effectively.
New technology and forward-thinking brands are now creating more sustainable options, but how do you know what’s compostable, biodegradable, recyclable…? Get the ‘break down’ below.
Biodegradable vs. Compostable
Biodegradable packaging is able to completely break down in nature typically within a year of disposal – think cardboard, some new cellulose plastics and bio-plastics. Most biodegradable packaging will still end up in landfill, but its ability to decompose in considerably less time than plastics (which may not at all) helps to reduce the impact on the environment.
Compostable packaging is also designed to break down and return to the earth. Special composting conditions, such as the correct pH, are required for this to occur. While some products will do well in your home compost, some may need a commercial composting facility. The main difference from biodegradable packaging is that compostable packaging materials actually give nutrients back to the earth after breaking down, acting as a fertiliser to benefit soil when combined with the rest of your compost. However bear in mind that composting will only work effectively if the packaging has been thoroughly rinsed and cut into small parts before being added to your home compost.
Items like the Konjac Sponges will be compostable AND their outer packaging is biodegradable, even the cellophane window!
Plastic vs. Bio-plastic
Conventional plastic is crude oil-based and is essentially around forever, breaking down into smaller and smaller particles called micro-plastics, which may be taken up into the environment and our oceans, eventually even ending up in our food chain.
Bioplastics are made from plant or other biological material (like corn starch or wood pulp) instead of petroleum, which will break down much more quickly. In the beauty industry, the theory that bioplastics are a more eco-friendly alternative to plastics is down to the idea that when breaking down, they’re simply returning the carbon the plants sucked up while growing. However, using plants (sugar-cane) for bioplastics that biodegrade still has some sustainability issues, but a lot less so than using a non-renewable resource like oil (where plastic comes from). Innovation in this area is to be encouraged even if it still isn’t perfect, and the natural beauty sector has its share. The Tata Harper Rejuvenating Cleanser is made from sugar-cane derived plastic.
Recycled vs. Recyclable
If a product or its packaging is made using recycled content, this means the materials have come from post-consumer recycled waste that might have otherwise ended up in landfill – they can most often be recycled again. One great example of this is Dr Bronner’s. Their bottles are made from 100% post-consumer plastics and can continue to be recycled after you use them.
On the other hand, recyclable materials, of which both plastics and cardboard would qualify, are those that can be processed to use again. Beauty Kubes make shampoo cubes housed in a card box vs. a plastic bottle – and card is very easily recycled and will even biodegrade, whereas plastic can only be recycled. Check with your local authority what you are able to put in your recycling bin for collection. Shop Recycled and Recyclable Beauty Products.
Coloured Glass vs. Clear Glass
Glass is a great option for packaging as most local councils will have glass recycling as standard – just remember to remove the pumps or caps that will likely still be plastic. The big question is – to separate or not to separate? Unfortunately recycling glass is not as simple as putting it all in one bin to be collected. Not all glass recipes are the same and mixing glass hues can diminish the quality of the recycled product and ability to sell recycled glass in the future. We are lucky that in the UK, commercial recycling facilities have automatic colour sorting. Shop Glass Packaging Beauty Products.