Research




PACKAGING WASTE

Packaging is any material used to contain, wrap, protect, or present an item. It is considered harmful to the environment because of the use of its materials and its disposal at the end of its useful life. Consumers are virtually unaware of the function of packaging, and once separated from the product, packaging is seen as waste, and its original function is quickly forgotten. This type of waste is created when packaging materials are discarded, usually after the product has been opened or used. According to statistics, ‘Over 67 million tonnes of packaging waste is generated annually in the EU, comprising about one-third of all municipal solid waste’. Packaging waste is an obvious source of litter and poses a significant waste management challenge. Therefore, the packaging waste found everywhere in life was the beginning of this project.

Many materials are used for packaging, mainly wood, paper or cardboard, plastics, metals, glass, and composites. ‘Plastics contribute 18 percent of the 10.4 million tonnes of packaging wastes produced annually in the UK’. Plastic packaging is a significant contributor to packaging waste. Single-use plastic bags, bottles, and other packaging materials can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment, damaging ecosystems in oceans, rivers, and land. Paper and cardboard are also used at higher rates, accounting for 17 percent of total global waste, second only to food and green waste. While paper and cardboard are more biodegradable than plastics, their production leads to deforestation and energy consumption. When not properly recycled, they increase the amount of waste in landfills. Metals and glass are recyclable materials, but the energy required for extraction, processing, and production can hurt the environment.

Packaging has a wide variety of polymers, each of which may contain different processing additives such as fillers, dyes, and plasticizers. The complexity of these components and the contamination during their use often increases the burden of recycling and disposal. However, the generation of this packaging waste is a serious environmental problem because it seriously impacts landfills, ecosystems, and natural resources. Although the proportion of waste going to landfills is decreasing yearly, around 60 percent of the UK’s municipal waste still ends up in landfill sites.

Recycling of packaging materials has increased in recent years, with two-thirds being recycled, but the recycling rate for most plastic packaging remains static. Designers have known for a long time that the function of packaging is to deliver products to consumers, thereby protecting and potentially enhancing them. However, over-packaging, lack of recyclability of packaging materials, and low consumer motivation to recycle have increased packaging waste and environmental problems. The fact that these packaging materials do not decompose quickly is also a critical factor that continues to lead to environmental pollution. How to reduce the environmental pollution caused by packaging waste is the breakthrough of this project.

Biodegradable and compostable materials can be used as alternatives. It is just that they require proper disposal facilities and the environment to decompose effectively and thus reduce environmental pollution. However, biodegradation is the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms. It is a natural process. On the other hand, composting is a human-driven process where biodegradation occurs under specific circumstances.

Therefore, making a reusable and biodegradable material was the goal of this project. From an environmental point of view, it needs to have a short degradation cycle. It would reduce the environmental pollution caused by landfills and also reduce the waste of resources in the production process.



WHY CHOOSE BIODEGRADABLE MATERIALS?

Biodegradable materials naturally break down into non-toxic substances, minimizing harm to the ecosystem. Many biodegradable materials, such as corn starch, straw, and bamboo, come from renewable resources. Biodegradable materials typically produce a smaller carbon footprint than traditional materials, promoting sustainable development. For example, some materials use less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases during production. Biodegradable materials, such as soil, water, and composting facilities, can naturally degrade in different environments. This helps to reduce environmental pollution from waste. Some biodegradable materials, such as compostable plastics, can be composted in industrial plants. Not only does this reduce the need for landfills, but it also sends organic matter back into the soil, making it fertile.