Green Packaging – How To Maintain Green Ideals in a Cost-Driven Market

In an age of economic and environmental pressure, an ever-increasing conundrum for retail packaging buyers is that of how to maintain green ideals in a cost-driven market. When it comes to making a straight choice between materials that are better for the environment versus cost, the question then arises; is there a ‘best of both’?

Green Packaging Choices

Within the packaging industry, arguments have been going back and forth for some years over the environmental versus cost benefits of certain materials and processes against others. Ask most buyers, and they’ll tell you that ‘being green’ will cost you more. There is of course a compelling argument for the green ideal, but do the benefits really justify the additional cost? In the end, there’s only one thing that’s clear, that there is no single unequivocal solution. And if you want to see just how complex this issue really is, then let’s take a closer look at one of our most common packaging materials – paper.

On the surface, there’s a complex array of factors that surround the choice between virgin and recycled papers. Cost, sustainability, and carbon footprint are all important issues, however when looked at from the only view that matters – yours – we return to one simple question –

Both options have their merits and pitfalls. It is generally accepted that virgin papers have a quality ‘look’ and ‘feel’. High-end premium papers tend to be made from virgin or at very best, ‘virgin processed’ or ‘second life processed’ fibres. This gives the paper mills more flexibility in controlling the fibres during the manufacturing process in order to attain a more premium finish. Yet paper mills are now able to produce recycled papers that have the same appearance and characteristics as virgin, if not the same performance.

Certain brands, whether premium or not, can have a natural look as part of their branding or they may have a strong environmental ethos. Each might lean towards a natural paper but for quite different reasons. For others, achieving a flawless finish, and consistent colours is everything. The point is that your choice of material should ultimately support your brand and what it stands for. It’s all about being clear – doing your research about the choices that are available and understanding what they really mean for the environment, for the end result, for your brand and for your bottom line.

Using the experience and expertise of companies like Keenpac can be enormously helpful too, since we’re working constantly with new raw materials, as well as manufacturing processes so we are able to tell you how a material really performs in production. We can also obtain material samples and provide draw-downs (test prints) on any paper you’re trialling so that you can see the results for yourself.

Whatever your choice, be it virgin pulp, recycled pulp or a mixture of both, the possibilities for being ‘environmentally responsible’ are endless, so having a defined strategy is vital. What is your company’s stance on the environment? Do you want a product that’s recycled or recyclable? What’s best for your brand? And how can you apply the thousands of paper types and styles to achieve the look you want?

Cost is a vital factor but it’s not everything, and with the advances made in the paper industry today, and some careful consideration of the choices available it still might just be possible to have the best of both!

What is Virgin Paper?

It’s the name for paper that comes directly from sustainable sources like trees or plants without having been through a recycling process.

What gives paper its different characteristics? The different fibre lengths are mainly what give paper its different characteristics. Virgin pulp fibres can be anything in length from 5mm (those from the softwood trees of the north) to as little as 1mm (from hardwood trees of the temperate regions). The long fibres of the softwoods are perfect for making strong Kraft papers, compared to shorter hardwood fibres which help towards a nice smooth finish!

Where does recycled paper come from? Recycled paper contains fibre from waste paper. It can often include a high proportion of ‘post-consumer waste’ which is paper that has already been used in its final form.

Is recycled paper as strong as virgin paper? Not always. The recycling process is damaging to fibres, which lose strength when they have been recycled again and again. The more times a fibre is recycled, the shorter and weaker it becomes. For the best of both, recycled fibres can be added to a virgin pulp as a ‘mix’, offering the benefits of virgin with the lower cost of recycled. The mix can be varied to increase or decrease the characteristics of each.

Can recycled papers look as good as virgin paper? Recycled papers are often slightly ‘off-white’ or grey in colour – a feature that’s created when the print or dyes in the original paper are mixed with recyclate. Special additives can be used to remove the dyes, and achieve a similar visual appearance (if not strength) as a virgin paper.

Does the use of recycled paper protect trees? One of the unique benefits of paper, is that the raw material is renewable. The paper industry has a number of certification schemes such as the FSC that ensure the source of the paper we use is being renewed. Using recycled paper won’t necessarily save trees, but it does ensure we use the fibre more efficiently.

Where does Paper Come From ?

In its most basic form, paper is the binding together of pulped cellulose fibre drawn from plants and trees.

The Egyptians are generally thought to have been the first to use this type of sheet, known as papyrus, for their written records. It was made by pounding and pressing woven strips of papyrus reed. This became known as ‘paper’.

The first example of paper as we know it today was developed in China and was made from the inner bark of the Mulberry tree. Today paper is made from many different plant species, as well as non-organic materials like stone. Paper has been around for a long time and so has the practice of recycling paper, although it was not until recently that recycled paper was considered to be good enough to match its virgin paper cousin.


FSC and PEFC – What does it all mean?

FSC is an abbreviation for the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC is dedicated to promoting economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally appropriate management of forests around the world. They are a non-governmental, international organisation. The need for trustworthy timber product labelling and concerns about deforestation caused FSC to be founded in 1993. Rainforest Alliance, the Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the WWF and many important players in business and industry are known to be supporters of the FSC.


Luxury Point-of-Sale Retail Packaging

We’re the luxury point-of-sale retail packaging specialists. For over 30 years, our innovative and cutting-edge packaging solutions have been enhancing some of the world’s biggest and best known brands.

Our retail packaging expertise covers all sectors, including fashion, cosmetics and beauty, watches and jewellery, specialist retail, and charity as well as on-line retail.


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