We know there is a lot of confusion about what certain terms mean within the packaging sector (and the general community) when talking about Sustainable packaging. At NaturePac, we are trying to make things as easy and clear as possible. Below is a glossary of the terms we use (and some we don’t use) within our website and conversations.
When talking about the terms below, we are very specific as to what we mean; when we say a product is Recyclable or Sustainable, you know exactly what to expect.
A circular economy is an economic system which employs the "make, use, reuse, recycle, make"… philosophy. This is different to a linear economy which is often summarised by “take, make, waste”. At NaturePac, we try to promote a circular economy. Our products are either designed to be composted into soil improver, or recycled; meaning our products are designed to be reused, albeit in a different application.
Compostable products are mostly made from renewable resources, and in the recyclable products, we try to use as much recycled material within them as possible.
When we talk about Sustainable packaging, we are talking about packaging which fits into the Circular Economy. It is packaging which has been made from either renewable resources or recycled material and then can be reused again, either as soil improver or as a recycled material.
For us, if we call an item recyclable, it must be able to be recycled from home in the majority of the UK. This means it must be easy to recycle within existing waste streams. Most of the time, the item will be made from a single material, e.g. paper, board, rPET, etc. If the item is made from more than one material, it will have been designed to still be easily recycled, such as our NaturePac cups.
Packaging which is Commercially Compostable (or Industrially Compostable), needs to be sent to a specialist facility to be composted under a controlled environment. Most packaging needs to be sent to an in-vessel facility to be aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) composted. During the process the oxygen and moisture levels are measured and controlled, along with the temperature. The whole process should take 12-16 weeks and at the end, the compost is normally sold as soil improver.
When packaging is marked as Home Compostable, it means it will break down if your home compost heap within 12-16 weeks. This is different to Commercially Compostable packaging as Home Compostable packaging will compost at much lower temperatures.
Compostable – Widely Considered
It costs roughly £15,000 to get either Commercially Compostable or Home Compostable certification on a single size of a single product. There are some products which are obviously compostable as they are made from just paper which do not have certification but which we know are compostable. Examples of these products are flat paper bags, paper carrier bags, etc. We have marked these products as Compostable – Widely Considered so you can clearly see if they have a certificate or not.
We try not to use the term Eco-Friendly as we feel it is too vague and has been mis-used too many times. Anyone could use the term for almost any product if they deem it to be ‘eco-friendly’ in some way. There is no certification or standard behind the term.
At NaturePac, we feel the term ‘Bio-degradable’ is very similar to Eco-Friendly in that it's been mis-used and misunderstood too many times, so we do not use this term anywhere on our website or other materials. Too many people use bio-degradable when they actually mean degradable. Quite often, if an item is only marked as bio-degradable, it is actually a plastic which has an additive in it which degrades it into micro plastics.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a type of polymer (plastic) which has been derived from plant starch, normally corn / maze. This is different to standard plastics which are derived from oil. The corn or maze which is grown to manufacture PLA has been genetically modified to contain a large amount of starch, which makes it uneatable. There are arguments that farm land taken up to grow this crop should really be used to grow food to feed the population.
The biggest benefits of PLA is that it is mostly made from a renewable resource and it is compostable, normally Commercially Compostable. PLA is not designed to be recycled. If it gets into the recycling streams of other plastics, it will contaminate the rest of the batch, most likely making it unusable.
Bagasse is a material normally made from waste material from either the sugar cane industry or the agriculture industry. Most of the Bagasse material in our products is made from sugar cane, however, there are some products which are made from the waste material of wheat. Bagasse is a cellulose based material, giving it a paper/card feel. Bagasse can be composted (we stock Bagasse products which are certificated to be Commercially Composted and some which are certificated to be Home Composted). Bagasse can also be recycled, however, the recycled material will be low grade. This means it could be use to items like egg boxes.
Aqueous Coated Paperboard
At NaturePac, we have several items which are made from an Aqueous Coated Paperboard, the best selling of which are the Brown Kraft Meal Pails. This board is both Commercially Compostable and Recyclable at Home. This board has been used very successfully for a few years in this type of application. In 2020, we did try supplying cups in this board, however, the technology wasn’t quite right for making a leak proof cup.
Manufactures of this type of board are very private about what the Aqueous Coating is made from. We know it is a water dispersion coating, which is sprayed onto the board. We believe there is acrylic within this coating.
At the time of writing this (July 2021), there is a new board on the market from Delipac which we believe to be different again, as it has been certificated to be Home Compostable, as well as recyclable from home. We are currently researching to see if we can make use of this new board.
Our NaturePac Fully Recyclable Cups are made from EarthCoat board. This is paperboard with a mineral and PE liner. The mineral is chalk based. The EarthCoat board has been specially designed to be able to be recycled within existing waste paper streams within the UK, meaning it can be recycled from home.
Depending on the board you compare it to, the EarthCoat board uses approximately 40-51% less plastic than PE or PLA lined cups. The biggest benefit of cups made from this board is that they can be recycled without any special treatment. The liner is designed to come away from the paperboard during the same process as removing the ink from the paper. The paper fibre recovery from recycling the cups is extremely high and very good quality, meaning the recycled paper fibres can be reused for many applications.
PE Lined Paperboard
The majority of the cups still used are made from PE Lined Paperboard. This is board which has a 100% PE liner laminated to it. This type of board is very difficult to recycle and very energy intensive when it comes to removing the PE liner from the paperboard. This is shown as there is only one facility within the UK which can recycled this board, even though there are millions of PE lined cups used each year. This means there is only a small fraction of 1% of PE lined cups which are recycled.
At NaturePac, any products which are not compostable and are designed to only be recycled, we try to ensure they contain as much recycled material as possible. rPET is PET which has already been recycled at least once. There are two main types of recycled material; Postproduction and Post-Consumer.
Postproduction is waste material from the manufacturing process.
Post-Consumer is waste material from products which have been used by consumers (general public)
Recycling both of these types of materials means waste has been diverted away from landfill or incineration. Some of our products are made from 100% rPET, such as our rPET salad bowls and lids. Other rPET products, such as our rPET smoothie cups, do contain a percentage of virgin PET (20% in this case). We have chosen rPET as is it one of the most recycled plastics within the UK and makes a quality product. All our rPET products can be recycled at home.
One of our goals at NaturePac is it increase the demand for recycled material, particularly plastics such as PET. If we can help increase the demand for recycled material, this will encourage waste management companied to collect more waste to recycle and so should make it easier for the general public to recycle their waste.
NatureFlex is similar to PLA in that is it mostly made from renewable resources, however, the base material is different. NatureFlex is made from a cellulose based material.