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Green-er Packaging Materials

Green-er Packaging Materials

The information below is a basic overview and is only relevant to flexible films. These are plastic or metalized based packaging films used for sachets, bags, wraps or any packets that are found throughout shops, supermarkets and foodservice, for products used in everyday life.

There are a few distinct types of flexible packaging currently on the market that claim to be “greener” than the rest. When looking at these bear in mind that almost all the plastic or foil based flexible packaging films you currently use get thrown straight into landfill where it can take literally hundreds of years to breakdown. Not good. The best result would be if NZ had the infrastructure to recycle these films, but this seems to be a long way off.

One type of film available is commonly called “oxo-degradable”. These are films that are made from standard materials, but have an additive which is designed to enable the film to breakdown in certain landfill or other ambient conditions in a shorter time than conventional film. The rate at which these degrade depends in part on the amount of additive and also the disposal environment. Basically it’s a combination of heat and oxygen which starts to activate the degrading of this film. We have used this film over the years and have actual samples of film that we have used which are now literally falling apart in our hands after 2-3 years. This as far as we can see is far better than hundreds of years when comparing to standard films. There is currently some debate however about how well this film will breakdown in landfill within NZ. This is due to the fact that many landfills try and eliminate oxygen when processing their waste and this is obviously one of the key triggers that makes this product degrade. This is an important debate as almost all flexible film ends up in landfill once used and thrown away. Our current opinion is that this type of film is still miles better than using a standard film without the additive, but more studies need to be done in NZ landfill conditions to give the public a good clear understanding of how well it works.

Another form of degradable film is like oxo-degradables, but instead they have an organic additive which breaks down the packaging film in conditions which don’t require light or oxygen. Without wanting to get too technical these guys state that the additive attracts oil eating bacteria which are present in landfills and composting sites which basically eat and devour the film. This type of film is relatively new on the global stage and is yet to have a generic descriptive name other than the brand names companies sell it under. The ones we use have been tested to international standards for biodegradability in landfill which is pretty cool. As with Oxo-degradable films however no testing has yet been done in NZ conditions and there is still some debate as to how well it works here. Our opinion on this film currently is that on the surface is seems a better proposition than Oxo-degradable films as it is technically designed for landfill, however we prefer to call it a degradable film as opposed to biodegradable and we also feel more studies need to be done within NZ. Again we think this is a far better option to use as opposed to standard films.

The last group of film we use is commonly called “Bioplastics”. These films are potentially the way of the future and are currently made from sustainable resources such as wood pulp or corn starch as opposed to petroleum, which is great while these stocks are in abundance. As opposed to landfill these films are designed more to be commercially composted whereby the films will then breakdown naturally. The only downside of this is that because NZ does not yet have a suitable commercial composting system, they are not likely to ever be composted; therefore the majority of it will end up in landfill where it is not designed to break down. We do believe that in applications where bioplastic films can be used they are better than conventional films. There is however a lot of confusion in the marketplace by many claiming these products are compostable in NZ when there is no system in place to compost them. Our hope is that local councils see the benefits of commercial composting and introduce this as a means of disposal throughout NZ.

It is important to note that within the flexible packaging industry there is still much healthy debate about which is the best option to use and it can literally come down to personal opinion. Health Pak is committed to trying to provide what it feels is the best option for the environment in which it is used and does not affiliate itself with any one brand or packaging type. Within the above groups there is a myriad of options available and we are happy to look at what option best suits your product or application.

NB: This information is not relevant to any rigid plastic packaging such as bottles or similar that can currently be recycled within NZ (See “Our bottles can all be recycled” for more information on why we have made this distinction).