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eco friendly packaging

What Packaging is Environmentally Friendly? Breaking Down Sustainability Terms

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Sustainability means meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable packaging, also known as eco-friendly or green packaging, is defined as being easy to recycle, safe for individuals, safe for the environment, and made out of recycled materials.

Many packaged products are advertised with environmental sustainability jargon, such as “eco-friendly,” “biodegradable” or “compostable,” without companies elaborating on the claims, and consumers are rightfully confused.

What exactly do each of these sustainability terms mean, and how do these claims reflect the type of product packaging you’re getting? Read on to find out.

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Biodegradable and compostable both describe a package’s end of life – but while all compostable materials are biodegradable, not all biodegradable materials are compostable. Biodegradable means that an item can decompose into its base elements through microbial activity over time. Compostable describes a material’s ability to biodegrade in a short time period in a controlled composting environment.

These sustainability terms are used interchangeably, which adds to consumer confusion. The biggest difference is that biodegrading occurs naturally, while composting is a human-driven process.

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What Does Biodegradable Mean?

When a biodegradable material reaches the end of its life cycle, bacteria and other organisms in an ecosystem will begin to break down the product. Gradually, the material will decompose, or biodegrade, in natural environments and will eventually be converted into components such as carbon dioxide and water.

Examples of Biodegradable Products

Most biodegradable packaging materials are made of cardboard, paper, cornstarch, and bioplastic. Examples include label stock, board stock, corrugated boxes, packaging peanuts and envelopes.

Many biodegradable packages consist of bio-based materials, though there are a few exceptions. When in doubt, it’s best to ask your material supplier directly to ensure the materials align with your sustainability initiatives.

How to Measure the Biodegradability of a Material

OECD 301B is the main way to measure a material’s biodegradability. This international testing method measures how quickly a material will break down in water over a period of 28 days. If a material passes the OECD 301B test within the 28-day timeframe and within 10 days of reaching 10% biodegradation, it’s categorized as “readily biodegradable.”

How to Properly Dispose of Biodegradable Materials

Composting is usually the best way to dispose of biodegradable materials, though you can safely toss biodegradable waste in the trash. It’s also important to note that conditions like temperature, water, light, oxygen and bacteria impact the time it takes for products to biodegrade. Materials that can safely biodegrade in nature or a home compost heap will take much longer to biodegrade in a landfill.

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What Does Compostable Mean?

Compostable materials will quickly biodegrade in a home or industrial composting environment. In order for a product to be classified as compostable, the material must biodegrade naturally without leaving visual remnants or unacceptable levels of toxic residues.

When comparing compostable vs. biodegradable materials, remember that while all compostable materials are biodegradable, not all biodegradable materials are compostable.

Examples of Compostable Products

Compostable packaging materials are derived from fossils, trees, sugar cane, seaweed, cellulose fiber or other renewable resources. Common examples include paperboard, paperfoam, bamboo fiber, coatings, inks and additives.

How to Measure the Compostability of a Material

The ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 standards are often used to evaluate the compostable characteristics of plastic and fiber-based packaging materials. ASTM D6400 measures if plastic or plastic-based products will “compost satisfactorily” in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.

Meanwhile, ASTM D686 measures whether or not packaging materials with attached biodegradable plastic film or coating compost in the same kinds of facilities.

How to Properly Dispose of Compostable Materials

Compostable packaging materials – including those made of plastic – can be composted in a commercial or industrial composting facility. If this kind of facility isn’t located nearby, it’s best to throw compostable materials in the garbage since they often aren’t recyclable.

There are only a few industrial composting facilities around the world, which means a lot of brands are greenwashing their environmental claims by saying a product is compostable when it realistically cannot be composted. Home compostability is a more realistic standard which SmartSolve materials meet, meaning the packaging materials can decompose into nutrient-rich soil in a home compost bin. The ideal conditions for composting are warm temperatures, moisture, plenty of oxygen and nutrients.

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What Does Bio-Based Mean?

Bio-based products are made from renewable plant or animal feedstocks at the beginning of a package’s life cycle. The terms “biobased,” “renewable” and “biotic” are used interchangeably.

Most bio-based materials are biodegradable, and some are compostable. On labels, the percentage of bio-based materials listed reflects the quantity of renewable materials that were sourced to make the product.

Examples of Bio-Based Products

The most common examples of bio-based materials are fiber-based packaging, paper and adhesives that originate from trees, wheat straw or bamboo. Others include bioplastics, which are made from materials like food waste, sugarcane, corn starch, potatoes, mushroom roots and algae. PLA, a bioplastic made from corn, is often used in compostable food packaging.

How to Quantify a Material’s Bio-Based Content

The bio-based nature of a product is tested against the ASTM D6866 standard which quantifies a material’s bio-based content. This standard uses radiocarbon analysis to determine the content of solid, liquid or gaseous samples.

Currently, a material only needs to contain 20% renewable materials to be called a bioplastic, which means the other 80% could be made of fossil fuel-based plastic resins or synthetic additives which will not degrade. SmartSolve is working to create a bio-based substrate containing 100% bio-based content.

How to Properly Dispose of Bio-Based Products

If bio-based products are also biodegradable and compostable, they can be composted or brought to a biogas plant to be used as renewable energy. Many bio-based packaging materials can also be recycled, including bio-based plastics. When recycled, bio-based plastics are collected by recyclers and brought to a recycling plant. After being processed, they can be reused.

One downfall of bio-based products is that not all types can be recycled in the same way, and recyclability often depends on the facility. For example, bio-based paper is recyclable as long as the facility can recycle paper.

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SmartSolve’s water soluble materials are comprised of bio-based wood fibers that are sourced from FSC Certified forests. Our paper-based materials are non-toxic, biodegradable and approved for both home and industrial composting.

There is still progress to be made across the industry to make product packaging more eco-friendly, and we see a future full of innovation to help companies reach their sustainability goals and reduce our environmental impact. Get in touch with our team to discuss how our water soluble materials can help you go beyond recycling.

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SmartSolve Water Soluble Pouches

Many brands are switching to eco-friendly product packaging, and for good reasons. Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever and looking for brands that align with their values. According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, 60-70% of consumers said they would pay more for products with sustainable packaging.

Looking for product pouches that reflect the quality of your product while still being safe for the environment? Keep reading to learn more about water-soluble pouches.

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SmartSolve’s water-soluble pouches, also known as dissolvable pouches or sachets, are a proprietary product that disperses completely in water with no adhesive residue. A heat-seal coating retains the pouch shape, and pouches will disperse in seconds, regardless of water temperature.

SmartSolve pouches can hold any dry product, including powders, granules and other objects that are void of liquid or condensation.

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SmartSolve’s eco-friendly product pouches are comprised of bio-based wood pulp fibers sourced from FSC-certified forests. The active ingredient in our water-soluble pouch is carboxymethyl cellulose, a safe, food-grade powder which is most commonly used in chewing gum. These dissolving pouches are non-toxic and biodegradable, functioning more effectively with a smaller environmental impact than similar plastic-based products, such as PVA or PVOH.

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While sometimes referred to as “dissolving pouches,” the material technically undergoes a dispersion process. Once the pouches come in contact with water, the dispersion process begins. The adhesive completely dissolves while the wood pulp fibers begin to separate and return to their original bio-based state. Biodegradable materials are a lower-impact alternative to traditional plastics, as they are designed to transform into substances that can be recognized and utilized by living organisms once they are disposed.

SmartSolve’s 3X15 pouch material has passed the five GD4 flushability tests used to certify toilet paper and wipes, meaning the material is safe to go down the drain. The dissolved pouch material is safe for the environment and fish, meeting marine biodegradation standards and the EPA’s Ecological Risk Assessment.

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SmartSolve offers a range of water-soluble pouch packaging options that are suitable for many different dry product types, from detergent packs and personal care items to building chemicals. Unlike PVA, a petroleum-derived material commonly used for laundry detergent pods, water-soluble pouches can register print with water-soluble ink. While packaging is normally thrown away before a product is used, dissolvable pouches provide the unprecedented advantage of consumers seeing your branding in the last moments of the product lifecycle.

Personal care brands like Daye and Harry’s have seen viral success on social media from campaigns featuring SmartSolve’s flushable, “disappearing” pouches, exposing the brands to a new, growing audience of eco-conscious consumers.

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Our dissolving pouches are designed to deliver a pre-portioned product - sometimes even without the need to physically open the package. Many water-soluble products require careful handling, and some of these items can’t be exposed to air and other contaminants before use. SmartSolve’s water-soluble pouches eliminate the need for human contact while preserving the integrity of pouched products. They also protect end users from exposure to potentially harmful substances that are meant for use with water.

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Eco-friendly packaging has many advantages in commercial applications. SmartSolve’s dissolving pouches give organizations the potential for zero waste practices and make a great alternative to single-use plastics. Making the switch to greener product pouches can increase consumer confidence, attract new customers who support sustainable brands and alleviate the environmental impact of traditional product packaging. Choosing environmentally-friendly business practices can also qualify your organization for tax benefits.

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For dry products, SmartSolve’s water-soluble pouch technology holds distinct benefits over plastic-based and other packaging types. If your business is looking for sustainable, water-soluble paper, packaging or labeling, get in touch with our team today and learn how our solutions can work for your business.

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