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Plastic vs. Paper Packaging: Which is More Sustainable?

In an era where most consumers are starting to shift toward being more environmentally conscious and looking to support brands that are advocating the same, relaxation how does plastic versus paper packaging stack up?

Looking at Materials and Basic Manufacturing Processes

While many shoppers believe that paper is the most environmentally friendly packaging, the reality is more complicated and involves considering the product’s complete life cycle. We take a look at not only the composition of the final packaging but also all the steps that come before.

Making paper uses a lot of energy and water, and it produces a lot of solid waste and greenhouse gasses, which makes it more harmful throughout the manufacturing process. On the other hand, paper is created from biodegradable materials, whereas plastic is made from a scarce resource, oil.

However, just 4% of fossil resources are used to make plastics, and other resource demands, such as electricity and water, are greatly diminished. Paper is also bulkier and takes up more space before it reaches the user, making transportation typically more expensive.

Recycling Paper vs. Recycling Plastic

When it comes to recycling a plastic or paper bag, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that paper is considerably more likely to be recycled than plastic, with around two-thirds of paper bags making it to the recycle bin against 5% of plastic bags. Paper is also less prone to contamination, making it easier to deal with in the recycling facility. Even yet, plastics recycling and manufacturing methods are constantly advancing for better results.

Because neither material is ideal, and many of the claimed advantages of paper bags are neutralized during the manufacturing process, the issue of sustainability is still up in the air. Let’s take a look at how we can make sense of our packaging decisions below.

Choosing the Right Material For Your Application

The differences between plastic and paper bags are numerous, so which one is best for you depends on your unique needs.

Plastic is probably the ideal choice if you’re working with a product that requires specific cleanliness or high corrosion resistance, contamination, or static electricity. These are considerations that you cannot ignore as the success of your business will rely heavily on the reliability of your packaging strategy.

Plastic packaging is also more adaptable and cost-effective, which is an advantage for small enterprises and modest shipments.

A paper bag might be an acceptable solution if cost isn’t an issue and you don’t require waterproofing. It’s also helpful if you’re searching for a way to promote yourself in line with particular brand values and want your overall brand image to reflect this.

Keep in mind, though, that paper packaging usually requires more protection, so you would need to double up for secondary packaging when shipping, creating more waste as well. Paper bags are also less dynamic, which creates fewer opportunities for branding and versatile marketing options.

Over to You

Whatever you choose, the best thing is first to list all your essentials and move from there. Look at what will benefit you, the business, the consumer, and the environment, not just today but in the long run.

If you’re in a promiscuous market such as in the snacks category, create a brand image that supports your snack packaging choices to better pull away from the group. Good luck with your packaging journey, and remember to consult packaging experts to help you decide on the best choice for your business.


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