When the first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869, the impact on future generations and the environment was overlooked.
In fact, it seems like the life cycle assessment of plastic was completely neglected for profit. Businesses have a moral obligation to weigh any product’s contribution to society against its impact on the environment.
Green packaging has gained a lot of traction across the world, but what is it? This type of packaging has been around for more than 100 years, is much friendlier on the environment and is often produced using less energy intensive processes even if it’s a little more expensive than plastic-based packaging. Green packaging is also more sustainable, especially when you take the entire life cycle of the packaging into consideration.
The green packaging industry involves fibre-moulded products (i.e. biodegradable takeaway containers, electronics casing and egg trays, etc) and biodegradable plastics which are often made from starch or cellulosic material, which break down and degrade after a few weeks.
The South African green packaging industry is still in its infancy; there are about three companies using waste paper and cardboard to produce fibre-moulded products. Then there are about seven companies importing bioplastics as well as higher strength packaging from Asia, which are made from bagasse, which is the dry pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane. But this can easily be made in South Africa.
Globally, there is a rise in demand for green packaging. This might be because more people are aware of the dangers of plastic and its impact on the environment. Hence, consumers are becoming more discerning about the type of packaging they use. Legislation also plays a pivotal role; levies are being imposed on plastic products and some countries like Kenya, Canada and Morocco, have banned single-use plastics.
Eco Invader Solutions is a small, growing business providing innovative solutions for South Africa’s sustainable packaging needs. Their operations include water resource sustainability management and the beneficiation of alien invasive vegetation in creating product solutions. They are developing biodegradable, compostable, recyclable and thermo-formed packaging made from alien plants, waste paper and proprietary binders which will reduce the need to import fibre-moulded products.
Owner of Eco Invader Solutions, Tshepo Mangoele said: “In my view, all businesses need to create systems that are economically sustainable, environmentally friendly and helpful to society as well. Our company follows what we term the Penta-P cycle: people, planet, process, products’ innovation and profit, and this means that all the innovative products we produce need to be made through only green chemistry with little to zero harm to the planet, while ensuring societal contributions without harming the profitability and sustainability of our company. And that’s the rudder that guides us in our business.”
Plastic has many benefits and we cannot deny its usefulness. Hence, the need to create biodegradable plastics from sources that do not affect food security. “I fell in love with green packaging after learning how microplastics end up in the food we eat, how it slowly diffuses into liquids in plastic bottles and that it is possibly carcinogenic. Being a chemical engineering student with an entrepreneurial calling, I decided to be a part of the change,” said Tshepo.