Packaging matters – thinking outside the box

Written by: Christina Hawkes, Founder, Greenscents

Greenscents zero waste packaging

Packaging is essential for protection, preservation and distribution of all the products we need. In the UK only 2% of food arrives with you unfit to eat – compare this with developing countries where packaging is not widespread and the figure can reach 40%. The right packaging can reduce food waste which saves money and reduces your carbon footprint. All liquids require packaging and to distribute the Greenscents range we need bottles, boxes, pallets and containers.

Packaging also enables customers to understand the product and recognise the brand and all they stand for. Ensuring that we use our purchasing power wisely and support ethical brands is made easy by stand out packaging.

Packaging materials include wood, glass, paper, pulp, plastics, ceramics or combinations of these materials. This is where it begins to get tricky. Choosing packaging materials depends on the product but also the brand ethics. At Greenscents we are always looking for sustainable options that will carry our liquids safely to our customers. Glass bottles are great for recycling but weigh many times more than plastic to transport. In wet situations such as the kitchen or utility, glass can be dangerous as when dropped it can shatter. Paper weighs less than glass but is unsuitable for liquids unless it is lined with plastics which are usually composite and very difficult to recycle.

Since Blue Planet 2, we have woken up to the terrible consequences of our overuse of plastic and its effects on the ocean. As Greenpeace says:

Our oceans are slowly turning into a plastic soup and the effects on ocean life are chilling. Big pieces of plastic are choking and entangling turtles and seabirds and tiny pieces are clogging the stomachs of creatures who mistake it for food, from tiny zooplankton to whales. Plastic is now entering every level of the ocean food chain and even ending up in the seafood on our plates.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, in less than 10 years, scientists predict there will be 250 million metric tons in the ocean and by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish.

These are devastating findings and we need to find ways to reduce plastic entering our seas and oceans.

Around 50% of our plastic use is estimated to be linked to single use applications. This includes plastic bags, food packaging including coffee cups & straws. We must all endeavour to avoid single use plastics and there are plenty of great alternatives available. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle have come up with a great list of product swaps.

Zero waste is a great principle for the future of packaging. Instead of the linear cycle most businesses adhere to (extracting primary materials from the earth which then end up in landfill) the idea of zero waste is the circular system where energy is recycled and waste reaches a minimum. There are many zero waste shops springing up all over the UK and Greenscents has been lucky enough to participate. We send our 20 litre containers to shops up and down the country so customers can refill bottles full of our concentrated laundry and household products. Shops then return the containers to our workshops where we clean each container with organic cider vinegar and hose with high pressure water jets. This way we can make the containers last and last at least 20 times longer than usual.

Currently, Greenscents use plastic-free bio-polymer bottles made from the waste from sugar cane production. These bottles are made from renewable sources and not derived from non-renewable petroleum. We believe that at present, this is the first best option overall as these bottles are lightweight and together with our concentrated liquids mean that transport energy is lower and our carbon footprint reduced.  There is more about our packaging here

The problem comes with recycling. World wide only around 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled. Research from Green Alliance showed that the UK consumes 3.3m tonnes of plastic annually but exports two-thirds to be recycled. We are only able to recycle 9% domestically. The report also concluded that the UK could provide two thirds of the plastic needed through recycling initiatives. It is clear, that recycling is too big an issue to be left to local councils and requires national government policy and funding to put in place a UK wide sustainable recycling system.

If you feel strongly about this issue as we do please write to your MP and mention the Green Alliance research which has excellent policy suggestions that the Government could follow. Don’t let your plastic end up in landfill – act now to save ocean habitats and create a zero waste economy.