Biodegradable Materials to Combat Waste in Logistics
The history of biodegradable packaging started even before modern commercial packaging was popularized. The year 1869 saw the creation of the first biodegradable plastic synthesized from cotton cellulose in the USA.
It was 16 years later that Sunlight became the first company to sell its products with traditional plastic packaging on a large scale. This breaks from the preconception that environmentally friendly solutions exist only as answers to pollution and ecological crises. In reality, eco-friendly options predate fossil-based polymers, which became widely used, due to their cost-effectiveness and the prioritization of mass production to meet continued demand.
Although ecological solutions are now becoming more popular, and our priorities have slowly shifted toward environmental conservation, there is still a grave risk where commercial waste and disposal are concerned. In a single year, an average individual can create as much as 200kg or approximately 440lbs of waste, a large amount of which cannot be recycled or composted.
The logistics industry has a crucial role to play in reducing and reusing a considerable percentage of its waste. Although disciplines such as green and inverse logistics have rallied around revolutionary ideas and innovative ecological solutions, there are still significant challenges to overcome. Many multinational companies believe these solutions to be non-viable, and many small businesses lack awareness or access to them. The need for packaging and transportation of merchandise grows every day, so the discussion around this topic and its possible solutions in the field of logistics are more critical than ever before.
Alternatives for a better future.
In an ideal world, the use of harmful materials would be completely eradicated, but change does not happen from one day to the next. Countries like Holland, Germany, and Canada are making progress, with strong cultures of recycling and the implementation of biodegradable materials that has been widespread in almost all types of packaging for decades. The ecological programs in these countries were implemented gradually, so as to increase the availability and popularity of, for example, pay-for-recycling stations.
Latin America is also moving toward those objectives by passing legislation on dedicated government programs, for instance, Colombia’s Rational Use of Plastic Bags program, which since 2016, has gradually reduced the country’s waste production and promoted recycling.
Reducing traditional packaging options generates the need for the creation of new alternatives that can fill in the void left by polluting materials. This is especially true in modern logistics, as it is so vitally interwoven with the packaging industry, with the goal of transporting goods with minimal losses and damages. New alternatives almost always involve packaging elements that the European Bioplastic Association classifies in two categories: Those created using biomass, which is to say, materials obtained by fermenting renewable natural resources such as starch or cellulose and then processing the result via conventional chemical methods, and those created using biodegradable polymers derived from fossil monomers, which nevertheless fall within the biodegradability regulations of international institutions.
The use of bioplastics and eco-friendly materials in supply chains seeks to, above all, reach six objectives:
- Enhance the use of renewable resources
- Reduce toxic waste
- Help promote the general use of recycled or recyclable materials
- Facilitate easy recycling for all companies and individuals
- Lower the costs of packaging
- Minimize the total production of new containers
Green logistics works towards the sustainability of all industry aspects, including packaging and transportation, without overlooking fossil fuels used in transportation, which is entirely another topic in its own right. Of significant importance is the fourth objective displayed earlier, where companies like Spain’s Nortpalet seek to replace wooden pallets with biodegradable-plastic ones that are reusable in multiple deliveries, addressing both green and reverse logistics objectives.
Although a solution such as this one is suitable only for more large-scale companies, there are also alternatives for small and medium sized businesses that are only now, because of social distancing in light of COVID-19, starting to use e-commerce as their new way of selling merchandise. Non-toxic packaging foam, biodegradable ropes, and starch-based packing peanuts: the options are many, and even long-term savings are possible.
Coming up with new packaging options that utilize space more efficiently, reducing the number of times a driver has to come and go from a warehouse, even when using everyday materials such as cardboard, can be ideal for over encumbered delivery services. Bioplastic development keeps moving forward as well, and the production of sturdier, higher quality materials that are environmentally friendly is essential for all logistics.
Woodward leads the logistics industry in staying at the forefront of innovation and committed to sustainable solutions that are good for the planet and the community. We firmly believe that alternative eco-friendly materials must become the new norm all over the world, while continuing to prioritize workplace safety and sanitation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.