Compostable Materials - A Sustainable Replacement Of Petroleum Based Packaging?
Compostable packaging has the great potential of becoming a positive and much needed replacement for petroleum based plastic, especially in the urgent segment of packaging applications. However, there are concerns and significant issues that need to be addressed and resolved along the way for it to truly be called a sustainable material.
In the case of compostable packaging the whole “lifecycle” needs to be considered otherwise the production could end up solving one problem, only to create another. For example, aggravating the already serious problem of deforesting. At the same time lies a possibility that in taking a holistic approach it could result in positive ripple effect. For example nutrient soil could be produced for agriculture as well as having the production be carbon neutral.
Market analysis predicts that production of compostable and plastic packaging is set to increase, leading to the conclusion that the overall consumption will rise. All packaging industries are pressured to generate economic growth and as Thomas Fischer from the Deutsche Umwelthilfe stated that “companies are using more packaging to hide shrinking product sizes to gain economic surplus.” Compostable or not, Earth’s resources extracted are not limitless and fragile regardless of what our ancestors may have believed. Today we know better. Our attitude on how we view nature and its abundance needs to change.
Moreover it is the concern that only taking cues solely from a capitalistic system, other vital concern, such as ecological or social health, can continuously be ignored due to too high economical costs. Compostable materials are generally more expensive then traditional materials, and today paying as little as possible is generally still the the most desired scenario. Moreover, even if the compostable packaging as a product is seen as something economically beneficial other parts of the production might not and therefore run the risk of being down prioritised.
The New Plastic Economy Initiative could be seen as a large scale attempt where participatory and collaboratory approaches have successfully been put into practise. By involving a broad set of stakeholders on all levels of the supply chain they have been able to identify the problems throughout the whole process and set clear action plans to each set of problem setting – a necessity in such a significant and complex system. However, this approach does require patience, skill and diplomacy. It is with curiosity that we will follow if this initiative if will remain colourful PDF reports ,or if we will see a significant change in how we design and handle plastic packaging.
To conclude, compostable material is a valid replacement for conventional disposable plastic packaging. It could be created in such a way that would be benifital for human, environment and the economy. However, simply changing material isn’t enough. To create significant sustainable development over a longer period of time additional vital concerns needs to be considered to obtain sustainable designs and development.