In 2014 supermarkets in the UK handed out over 7.5 billion plastic carrier bags, a record number. In October the following year, a compulsory 5p charge was introduced. Supermarkets and their consumers are being encouraged to think more carefully about their use and disposal of plastics. So the hunt for eco-friendly plastic films is on.
This is just one of many steps the UK and nations around the world have taken towards a more sustainable plastics industry. But the journey is far from over. Manufacturers are keen to develop more eco-friendly plastic films, retailers want to offer good value alongside good ethical practice, and consumers want to shop with a clear conscience. This applies to all plastics, not just carrier bags.
“We all care about our impact on the environment. We have to make moves towards a more sustainable future for plastics wherever possible. All of us need to be committed to this, from the chemists who develop products, to manufacturers and the end-user, we all have an important role to play.”
– Jonathan Moore, A.Warne & Co.
Is plastic such a bad thing?
All packaging, be it plastic, paper or natural fibre has an impact on the environment. They all require energy throughout their lifecycle, from manufacturing to distribution and disposal. Even cotton or jute carrier bags will release methane if discarded into landfill. So what’s the big issue with plastics?
Plastic carrier bags, for example, are made from polyethylene (PE), a plastic derived from non-renewable oil. They are recyclable and they contain 70% less plastic than they did 20 years ago, but many of them do end up in landfill. Here, they could take hundreds of years to break down.
So, here at A.Warne, we’re looking for ways to save energy, reduce the use of non-renewable resources and reduce the amount of non-compostable material that ends up in landfill.
Are there any eco-friendly plastic films and how do they compare?
There are three main eco-friendly plastic films that A.Warne supply.
This eco-friendly plastic film is made from a cellulose base, a naturally occurring organic compound. Cotton is 90% cellulose, wood is around 40%. The cellulose diacetate that we supply at A.Warne is made from wood pulp and trees from managed sources that are FSI accredited.
Cellulose diacetate has food approval, so it’s safe for packaging food. It has a very high moisture transition rate, allowing products like pastry to stay crisp for longer, and it’s also home compostable meaning it degrades quickly to a very small particle size.
While this is considered an eco-friendly plastic film, it does of-course still take energy to manufacture and distribute. But it’s the fact that it’s made from organic material rather than petrochemicals, and that it is compostable, that make it a great eco-friendly alternative.
Learn more about the chemistry of cellulose diacetate on Wikipedia
PLA – Poly Lactic Acid
Poly Lactic Acid or PLA is another eco-friendly plastic film that is manufactured from organic material. In this case, it is made using corn wheat, usually grown in the USA.
Naturally biodegradable or industrially compostable, it degrades twice as fast as newspaper given the same conditions of temperature and humidity, and degrades into an innocuous compound called lactic acid. In fact it’s considered so safe that PLA is often used in medical implants where it breaks down inside the body.
Although PLA film is cheaper than cellulose diacetate, it is more difficult to handle and process. So it’s not suitable for as wide a range of applications. But many customers find PLA film a great eco-friendly plastic film alternative.
Learn more about PLA on Wikipedia
RPET – Exclusive to A.Warne
This eco-friendly plastic film is exclusive to A.Warne. We developed it with Dupont to provide a stable, machinable film with an environmental conscience. It’s made with at least 30% post-consumer waste. We save some plastic from landfill and use it to create the core of our RPET film. It’s then enveloped in a ‘skin’ – a very thin layer of virgin polyester resin on either side.
RPET shares many characteristics with Polyester. It’s tough, smooth, clear, temperature resistant and food approved. It’s an extremely versatile option for those who want to use a more eco-friendly plastic film.
Aren’t eco-friendly plastic films too expensive?
Eco-friendly plastic film does tend to come at a premium. The complex processes required to manufacture it contributes to this.
However, as consumers become more educated and invested in the future of our environment, it may become far more viable to increase our use of eco-friendly plastic films. We are seeing more and more clients at A.Warne trialing eco-friendly plastic films and championing this is a selling point.
Do we need to use eco-friendly plastic films?
Although our eco-friendly plastic films offer a great way to reduce the impact of packaging on the environment, they’re not the only solution to this complex issue. There are many ways that manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike can do their bit for the environment.
By increasing the amount of plastic we all recycle, we can reduce the impact on the environment dramatically. The benefits are two-fold. Firstly it reduces the amount of non-renewable raw materials required to manufacture plastics. Secondly, by recycling plastics destined for landfill, we can reduce the amount of waste plastic entering our environment.
A.Warne offers several options for recyclable plastic films.
Waste to energy
This process takes waste plastics and burns them safely to power electric generators. The amount of CO2 released from this process is far less damaging to the environment than if the same waste was disposed of in landfill. Plus, it provides energy that could otherwise come from burning fossil fuels. This is widely considered to be an important element in the future of plastic disposal.
Reducing our use
By simply reducing the amount of packaging we use, we can all reduce our impact on the environment.
Get a quote for eco-friendly plastic film.
If you would like to know more about A.Warne’s range of eco-friendly plastic films or for a bespoke quote – call us today on 020 8543 3045.