When pigs ate our garbage
Back in the day, when our waste was mostly food, it was not unheard of to feed it to our livestock or bury it underground. Farm waste was reused as fertilizer for crops in an organic waste stream, which in essence, is composting. Composting has actually been practiced for thousands of years. Plastic, as we know it, is a major cause of pollution, but we are not yet at a point where we can do away with it completely, being the consumers that we are. The need to rid the world of plastic has led to innovative advances in the packaging industry – for times when packaging is still necessary, scientists have come up with circular methods of replacing conventional plastic by making packaging compostable to begin with.
Plastic has reached an all-time high
Up until the last few decades, people consumed at a much slower rate. We would re-hem dresses and rebind books before buying new ones, replenishing our belongings with personal, recurrent maintenance.
As people became more mobile, products became more disposable. In the past 3 decades, people’s lifestyles have evolved to become more dynamic and migratory. As a result, the consumption rate has grown exponentially, and with it, a mass accumulation of trash containing different types of material, among them plastic.
With the influx of people and waste, we’ve reached a point where the municipality has had to step in. Recycling was introduced in an attempt to counter the growing wave of plastic waste. But we soon came to realize that there is not yet a solid solution when it comes to recycling flexible plastic.
Recycling’s low success rate
Only nine percent of all plastic waste ever created in the world has been recycled. That’s nine percent of 6.3 billion tons of plastic! So, where lies the flaw in the system? Here are two points that help paint a picture:
1. Mismatched Layers: So much of our flexible packaging is comprised of multiple layers of non-matching materials, making it almost impossible to recycle due to the costly and difficult separation process.
2. Downcycling: Plastic products are rarely recycled more than once, and when they are, they can only be recycled so many times. In each round of recycling, the quality diminishes and eventually, these items end up in landfill as well, showing that the system is not as circular as we thought.
Coming full circle
In the past decade, the compostable packaging industry has gained major traction. For low-end plastic products, compostable alternatives have been available for a while, but flexible compostable packaging for more complex, high-end products have only recently been developed by companies like TIPA®.
There exists a whole new world of solutions for this huge, single-use plastics industry which allow us to substitute conventional plastic with high quality products that have a whole and natural end-of-life process. Compostable packaging brings us back to a full, natural cycle, much like when we used to feed our waste to livestock.