Kati Randell, Senior Manager of Strategic Packaging Development in the Paulig Coffee division, discusses the responsibility aspects of coffee packaging in her blog. This summer, we have again learned from the news that the trash vortexes in the oceans keep on growing. The characteristics that make plastic a great packaging material—lightness and durability—are bad qualities in the sea. The question is: Could all plastic packaging be developed to be biodegradable?
Biodegradable packages are manufactured from material that bacteria or fungi can break down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. This degradation requires specific conditions—usually, industrial composting with all the right microbes present, a sufficiently high temperature and an adequate length of time. To be classified as biodegradable, 90% of the material must decompose within three months in industrial conditions.
Biodegradable packages degrade, but slowly
Studies show that most consumers believe that if packaging material is marked “biodegradable”, it will degrade in nature or the sea. This is not entirely the case, however. Decomposition in nature takes a long time—several months or even years. During this time, with bad luck, animals will eat the non-degraded material or become entangled in it.
So why not develop packages that degrade quickly in nature or even the sea?
A coffee package, for instance, must protect coffee from external moisture and oxygen for 12 months. A package with these characteristics cannot decompose quickly even in an industrial compost, let alone by the side of a road or in an ocean. Few people know that even banana peels take 1–3 years to decompose! In my previous blog post, I discussed the properties of packaging required to keep coffee fresh in more detail.
Recycling is everything
Plastic packaging is not an evil that pollutes the seas all by itself—it ends up there as a result of our actions and because of inadequate recycling. Correctly sorted and treated, plastic packaging can be reused as energy and, in some cases, as new products or even soil.
This autumn, I will write about what we at Paulig are currently doing to improve the environmental characteristics of packing. Stay tuned!
Senior Manager of Strategic Packaging Development
Paulig Coffe division of Paulig Group