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Which is better cardboard or plastic?

The use of plastic and plastic in the environment has a high profile but like many of today’s issues there is a vast amount of information to understand. This document doesn’t have all the answers but aims to help understand some of the facts.

The first question is what is plastic?

Plastic can be made from fossil-based (oil) or bio-based materials (starch, lignin, cellulose etc). Both can be used to make highly durable, nonbiodegradable plastics, or plastics which either biodegrade or compost. The nature of the material used to make a plastic or the term used to describe it does not necessarily dictate the way it will behave at the end of its life e.g. a bio-based plastic or bioplastic does not automatically mean it will biodegrade.

Which is better fossil based or bio based plastics?

There is no definitive answer. When studying the carbon footprint over the life cycle of a plastic, bio plastics generally have a lower carbon impact during their extraction and production phase. When used for energy recovery fossil-based plastics emit greenhouse gases which can be higher than gas or coal, however when in landfill they are considered inert. When bio plastics degrade, they can emit high levels of methane but can be considered carbon neutral in energy recovery. For all plastics, recycling generates the lowest end of life emissions.

What type of plastic packaging does Adpak supply?

Adpak supplies Polythene, Polyolefin, and Polypropylene films for use on our machines. These are fossil based plastics. We are currently trailing bioplastics but as they cannot be shrunk, they are only suitable for certain applications.

Are these films suitable for recycling?

All the films that Adpak supply are fully recyclable. Polythene and polyolefin films fall under the recycling category of LDPE (code4), whilst polypropylene films fall under the recycling category of PP (code5). The bioplastic films we are trailing are suitable for composting and have “OK compost INDUSTRIAL” and “Ok Compost HOME” certification granted by TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium.


What is plastic recycling?

Simple plastics such as LDPE can be recycled either as industrial or domestic waste. Industry waste: polythene waste can be segregated, bundled and collected by waste management companies along with other materials for recycling. Domestic waste: different areas of the country have different recycling facilities which may or may not include polythene. Most large supermarkets still collect polythene bags for recycling.

What is recycled content?

In this instance we refer to recycled plastic waste. Depending on the application of the film a percentage of recycled plastic can be added. Consideration must be made to the quality and consistency of film required and accreditations such as Food Safe and BRC. Working with our manufacturers we can supply films with a certified 30% post-consumer waste.

Why should we recycle plastic packaging?

Recycling this material to use it again in the manufacture of new plastic items keeps this resource in the economy, out of landfill, and delivers economic and environmental benefits by reducing the use of virgin plastics.

What are degradable films?

By definition a biodegradable film is one that is capable of being decomposed, by bacteria or other living organisms, into a nontoxic residue thereby avoiding pollution. Such films exist, the most common are those made from starch, and will readily breakdown in a domestic environment. It is not possible to completely switch to these type of materials as they are not suitable for all applications. For example, kitchen/food recycling bin liners are starch-based and will degrade in a home composting system. However, this material might not be suitable for general packaging as it will quickly start to break down when wet. Starch-based films may be suitable for bagging but cannot be shrunk and used as a collation film.

Additives were added to plastic films to help them degrade and were referred to as Biodegradable or Oxo-Biodegradable. These additives are due to be eliminated from April 2020 onwards as they degrade into microplastics which contribute to plastic pollution.

What is WRAP?

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is a registered UK Charity. They consider themselves world leaders in establishing the facts, getting the right people working together, then converting ideas into action and delivery on the ground. They developed the well known mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and more recently have established the UK Plastics Pact.

The UK Plastics Pact

“The UK Plastics Pact is a trailblazing, collaborative initiative that will create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle the scourge of plastic waste.” More than 450 organisations have signed up to the pack including Adpak’s key suppliers and many of our customers including Boots, Asda, Pizza Hut, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Shelley Spring, Waitrose & Heinz. The pact has four goals;
1. Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (reuse) delivery model.
2. 100% of plastics packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
3. 70% of plastics packaging effectively recycled or composted.
4. 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.
At Adpak we our working with our key suppliers to achieve these goals, already meeting two of them.

Which is better cardboard or plastic?

A research paper produced by the Northern Ireland Assembly said it “takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.” Unlike plastic bags (which the report says are produced from the waste products of oil refining) paper requires forests to be cut down to produce the bags. The manufacturing process, according to the research, also produces a higher concentration of toxic chemicals compared with making single-use plastic bags.

Cardboard boxes and trays, even when made from 100% recycled materials, re-used several times and being fully recyclable, still have a CO2 footprint over four times that of plastic. In addition, cardboard is a bulky product and requires large areas for storage and incurs high transport costs. Plastic products are a dense product thus require less storage area and can be cheaper to transport with a lower CO2 emission. On CO2 emissions alone, plastic bags are normally better for the environment than paper or cardboard.

How many times do you need to use a bag to make it more environmentally friendly than a single use plastic bag