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🗓 29/04/2022 👤 Hannah

Paper vs Plastic: environmentally friendly packaging with KoRo

Environmentally friendly packaging is a challenge. In the following article we explain how we at KoRo make the decision between paper and plastic packaging.

Paper vs Plastic: environmentally friendly packaging with KoRo

Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine a household without products made of plastic. Chairs, smartphones, pens - everything consists to a certain extent of this cheap and easy-to-process raw material. But polymers are not only used in products. A non-negligible share (about 35 %) is used exclusively for their packaging. Thus, every German produces an average of 210 kg of packaging waste. It is imperative to reduce this enormous amount.

Here at KoRo we want to contribute our part to the sustainable use of our resources and therefore we have naturally thought about how we package our products.

You have probably already seen that we sell the majority of our products in clear plastic films and bags. Intrinsically, these are not particularly environmentally friendly and have often been a point of contention for many customers in the past. In the following we will take a closer look at how we came to this decision and why we (for the moment) stick to plastic packaging.

WHAT IS PLASTIC?

Plastic is a collective term for a Variety of different polymers. Polymers are - as the name suggests - chemical substances consisting of many (poly) similar, repeating parts (-mer). While polymers are found in abundance in nature in materials such as silk, wool or wood, most people think of the artificial polymers of everyday life: plastics. These are produced almost exclusively from fossil raw materials such as crude oil and natural gas. In the process, crude oil is broken down into its components in elaborate procedures. These hydrocarbon compounds can be chemically combined to produce the polymers we know and can no longer imagine life without.

Plastic in every day life

In addition to obvious things like drinking bottles, cans, food packaging and toothbrushes, more unconscious things like glasses, textile fibres, kitchen utensils, glue or cosmetics also consist to a certain extent of polymers. At this point, take a short moment and walk consciously through your home. 

What we think of now are the products that are made of plastic. However, these are only the products that have a direct use for us. Then there is the packaging, which is supposed to protect the products during distribution and shipping. It is usually removed and thrown in the rubbish. Especially in the food and beverage sector, the trend is towards fast food and convenience products. Here, portions according to need are individually wrapped, which further increases the amount of waste per product. These food and beverage packages are responsible for around 60 % of the packaging volume. In addition, the growth of the mail order business leads to an increased demand for packaging.

CONSEQUENCES OF PLASTIC CONSUMPTION

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Plastic pollution

Plastics are robust and durable, and we mainly use them for things that we only use for minutes - sometimes even seconds. Ironic, isn't it? And this longevity is falling on our feet. Improperly disposed of plastic items can last decades or even centuries unscathed. The result is an earth that is literally drowning in rubbish. In the Pacific floats a plastic island that is supposed to be three times as big as Texas and former paradise beaches are the landfills 2.0.

As harsh as it sounds, humans alone are to blame for this hazard. Plastic waste in the sea is the second biggest environmental problem of our time. Every year, about 32 million tonnes of plastic end up in the environment. Of this, 8 million tonnes alone end up in the world's oceans. Broken down, this means that 700 kg of new plastic waste pollutes the oceans every second. The rubbish is particularly dangerous for seabirds and fish. Birds mistake plastic parts in the sea for food, eat them and die from the residues in their bodies. And fish also mistake microplastics for plankton and eat them. It cannot be excreted or digested by them, remains in the body and ends up on our plates. Bon appΓ©tit!

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200 spieces a year, are victims of plastic waste. Those who think that this is only a problem of the big oceans on the other side of the world are mistaken. In studies in the North and Baltic Seas, plastic residues were found in the digestive tract of 5 % of fish and it is estimated that 90 % of North Sea birds have plastic in their bodies.

For those who do not care about environmental pollution, the following should be said: plastics also contain harmful substances, such as plasticisers. These can be absorbed by the body through skin contact and have a negative effect on hormone balance. This can result in infertility and changes in the genetic make-up.

IS RECYCLING THE SOLUTION?

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The yellow bin: the key to happiness

In germany we recycle a lot of plastic through the so alled yellow waste bin, which is essential for guarantee optimal recycling. About 90 % of household waste is collected by waste management companies. 99 % of plastic waste is recycled. At first glance, this balance looks exemplary. Unfortunately, not everything is as rosy as it first appears. Because not all recycling is the same. Only 40 % of plastic waste is actually recycled, i.e. effectively reused. The rest is recycled "energetically". And that sounds nicer than it is, because what is recycled here is merely the stored chemical energy of the plastic when it is burnt to produce CO2 and H2O zur electricity and heat generation. That's a bit like cheating and definitely not what you thought recycling was all about. 

But who bears the blame of the Recycling debacle? It#s easy to blame this on one person. Recycling is a complicated and costly process, because the seperating and sorting into different types of plastic is extremely elaborate and sometimes not possible. Because many materials consist of a combination of materials. The best example is probably the beverage carton. Here, paper, aluminium and polyethylene are combined in layers to form a so-called composite material. Gigantic recycling machines are needed to separate the individual components after use. And they are expensive, which is why only a few communities can afford such a plant. So only 36% of Tetra Paks are actually recycled. And even where recycling takes place, the rule is mostly: plastic is energetic. In the end, most mixed plastic packaging ends up in incinerators, even though it could be reused.

But there is also hope.Take PET bottles, for example. Due to the separation system introduced by the returnable deposit, these are collected relatively unmixed, which enables effective recycling. 98 % of all PET bottles are recycled. Really recycled. 34% become new PET bottles, 27% are turned into film, 23% become textile fibres and the remaining 16% become other products such as tape or toothbrushes. PET bottles are the prime example of how effective plastic recycling can work.

Bulk packs at KoRo

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Until then, the waste avoidance principle applies. The overriding guiding principle is:  Avoid before recycle before dispose. And this is where KoRo comes in. We have been thinking about how we can do our bit to reduce waste. For us the awnser is: Bulk sizes. The following table shows how we try to use as little plastic as possible for our packaging. The comparison with retail packaging clearly shows that we need comparatively less plastic waste for our products.

Producer

Weight per 100 g

KoRo

0,6 g

Farmer’s Snack (Apricots)

3 g

Ja (Plums)

3,2 g

Mary Land (Nut mix)

2 g

Rewe Beste Wahl (Mango)

9 g

 

Why do we use plastic packaging at KoRo?

Not everything that is paper is shiny... Because even if you find it hard to believe - sometimes even the frowned-upon plastic packaging can be the more environmentally friendly packaging choice. We at KoRo have thought a lot about this. And we want to show you why we have chosen plastic packaging for many of our products. Here are 8 reasons for plastic packaging at KoRo:

1-Lebensmittelsicherheit_FJ

1. Because food can be hygienically packaged with plastic and at the same time it is protected from germs or other influences such as moisture.

 

2-Haltbarkeit

2. Because plastic packaging can extend the shelf life of food and indirectly reduce food waste due to its high protective effect.

 

3-Verpackungsmull

3. Because bulk packaging generates less packaging waste per product, and that along the entire logistics chain.

 

4-Recycling

4. Because plastic packaging like KoRo's "Doypaks" can be recycled well. Carefully separated, plastic can be recycled and be more sustainable than other packaging.

 

5-Effizienz

5. Because our producers can choose the type of packaging themselves and reduce it to the minimum. This saves resources such as ink, paper and glue.

 

6-Transport

6. Because plastic packaging has a very low weight and can indirectly contribute to saving CO2.

 

7-Papier

7. Because paper packaging often does not offer sufficient protection and limits shelf life. With composite packaging, the inside is often coated with other materials such as aluminium or plastic, which makes recycling more difficult.

 

8-Glas

8. Because the weight of glass not only causes more CO2 during transport, but also breaks more often. When it is shipped, it must therefore be additionally packed with paper and plastic.

Plastic does not equal plastic

We have also thought about the type of plastic packaging. Here, first and foremost, the emission of CO2 for the production of the packaging materials must be taken into account. When examining the CO2-requirements for the production of different polymers, there are major differences. At KoRo, we use PP block bottom bags for the majority of our products. As can be seen in the diagram below, their production generates approx. 2 kg CO2 per kg of polymer is a comparatively low amount. The same applies to classic packaging materials such as PET and PE. While there are already plastics made from renewable raw materials (nylon, Zelofan, PLA), these usually require many refinement steps, which in turn harm their CO2 balance and are thus worse for the environment than their fossil equivalents. Dhe ray of hope are materials like PLA (poly lactic acid) and paper. These are both made from renewable raw materials and at the same time they consume the same amount of CO2. or even less.

Water requirements for the production of plastics are also an increasingly important factor. While water is not perceived to be a limited resource in Germany, this can be significantly different in countries with drier climatic conditions. Especially in times of global warming and the accompanying radicalisation of the weather, water consumption is becoming increasingly important. To a large extent, water is used for cooling the production facilities or the actual process management. As can be seen in the diagram below, PP performs comparatively well here with a water requirement of just over 50 l per kg of polymer. It is also easy to see here that the renewable raw materials (with the exception of PLA/paper) have a significantly higher demand compared to traditional plastics.

So if you look at the hard facts, you should either use PLA, paper or PP. But at KoRo we also have to consider factors such as handling (food safety, fat impermeability, product shelf life), supply and marketing. Here PP turned out to be the clear winner. It is easy to obtain, light, cheap, can be sealed airtight and allows a good view of the product.

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And while we're at it, we've also looked at what a standard order from KoRo causes for a carbon footprint. Let's say someone buys 4 KoRo products and has them delivered to them somewhere in Germany.By klicking "Buy" the product packed in PP (46 g CO2) is taken, packed into a parcel (214 g CO2) with filling material (35 g CO2). After this its taped shut, Dann noch fix zugeklebt, labelled with a shipping note (15 g CO2) and send to your home (277 g CO2). Macht 587 g CO2. So compared to the total cost, the packaging of the item accounts for less than 10 %. After all, everything has to be seen in relation to the total. 

All for nothing?

Of course not. We are constantly working to improve the sustainability of KoRo and our products. In places where no better option can be found in the short term, there are still solutions. There are for example reference projects, to which you can send a voluntary climate lump sum depending on your CO2 consumption. In most cases, the money is used to plant trees that bind the CO2 produced in the long term and thus counteract global warming.