Once and for all society is growing its general
consciousness that more sustainable consuming habits must be developed.
Reducing CO2 emitted to the atmosphere and reducing waste disposed into the
environment are two of the most important battle fields of this sustainable steamroll
movement that will benefit us all.
While advanced technology makes our day-to-day better and
easier, most of the fundamental questions can be answered by coming back to the
very basics. Giving answer to the need of more sustainable packaging solutions will
be no different.
Once again, the nature and the environment come to our
rescue, providing the solution to one of the biggest challenges that our
society faces: the amount of disposable and not biodegradable packaging that arrives
uncontrolled into the environment.
What are plant based materials?
Plant based materials are those obtained 100% from renewable
and vegetal source. Wood, cotton, natural wax or hemp are some examples that
have been used by humans for thousands of years.
In our quest to provide truly sustainable packaging
solutions and after several trials that failed with different materials such as
cardboard – due to its poor properties when used for rigid packaging
applications within our target markets, at HEIS we investigated the possibility
of developing plant based packaging that would be suitable for nutraceutical
and pharmaceutical applications.
This path opened the possibility to fully align our company
vision with the products we would be supplying: contributing with a massive
positive impact to a more sustainable planet by offering biodegradable and
compostable packaging solutions. Our tablet and liquid bottles are made of
vegan and plant based materials, obtained from several of the most common crops
all over the world, such as corn, sugar, tapioca or wheat.
Vegan Plant based packaging and the circular economy
Circular Economy aims to eliminate waste and the continual
use of the same resources. Adopting a model of closed loop, Circular Economy
supports reusing, sharing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing and
recycling, in order to minimise the use of resource inputs and the creation of
waste, pollution and carbon footprint.
Plant based packaging play an integral role into the
Circular Economy, providing a 100% circular alternative for Packaging with the
great advantage of minimising the impact for users.
Plant based packaging is obtained from vegetal renewable
resources and it will end up as a compost for feeding further crops, that would
eventually be transformed into subsequent Plant based packaging.
This closed loop not only respects the basics of Circular
Economy, minimising the use of resources and eliminating waste. It
significantly improves any further packaging material alternative, such as glass,
by minimising the Carbon footprint to unprecedented low levels while
maintaining the functionality of the packaging.
Isn’t it a very positive step ahead towards sustainability,
that we can use materials obtained from plants which will at the end of their
life feed other plants and so on?
“…but, are you really saying that I can maintain my current packaging format while being 100% environmentally friendly?”
This was the question that we received from one of our
customers in Colorado, USA at the very first stage of their switch to our
nutraceutical biodegradable and compostable pill bottles. With only one
question, this customer was pointing out the 2 main advantages of our
sustainable packaging solutions:
The possibility of maintaining the same
packaging formats and avoid massive investments in development and
certification of different packaging concepts, major changes in production
lines and secondary packaging as well as avoiding impacting the way customer make
use of packaging
Truly sustainable packaging that is both
compostable and biodegradable, obtained from vegetal and renewable sources that
fulfils the vegan certifications requirements
Which materials are vegan plant based used for packaging?
Cellulose, PLA and PHA, though very different between them,
are the three main plant based materials for packaging. Because of their
source, all of them would fulfil the Circular Economy premises. However, for a
packaging material to fulfil with its main reason to exist, a fundamental
question remains open: how do they perform when actually used for packaging
Cellulose does not offer barrier properties to moisture and
oxygen, the reason why, despite being used in food trays of very short shelf –
life (few days), cannot be used for packaging tablets, capsules, pills or
liquids that have between 2 and 5 years of shelf life.
That makes PLA and PHA as the only two vegan plant based
materials for packaging of nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. Given the
greater availability and lighter processing requirements of PLA, PHA remains –
though with a promising future in the next decade – a niche plant based
material, while PLA is becoming mainstream for packaging applications.
How does vegan plant based packaging compare to other packaging alternatives?
When focusing on rigid packaging, there are – in principle –
several material alternatives that could be used in the manufacturing of
packaging products such as bottles and pill jars. In the table below, different
variables could be relevant depending on the application, such as weight,
flexibility, CO2 footprint or recyclability.
The above table considers 2 dimensions:
How good packaging materials are with regards to
the environment, considering both waste footprint as well as Carbon footprint
How good packaging materials are with regards to
functionality and export suitability
Based on the above table, it can be seen that PLA and
Cardboard (cellulose derived material) are the two materials with highest score
on these 2 fundamental dimensions. However, cellulose based packaging fails on
one fundamental issue: its inability to pack products with longer than a few
days of shelf-life. Therefore, for both being a great alternative to the
environment (waste and CO2 footprint) as well as providing the immense
advantage of nearly offering the same functionality as PET packaging, PLA is having
a great impact towards more sustainable packaging systems, while minimising
impact of changes in retailers and consumers.