Reality Check: Alternative Packaging


Whether bioplastics from sugar cane or bags made from paper – there are now many Alternatives to conventional plastic. But not all of them are really as green as they seem.

After a lot of criticism set: carrier bags made of bioplastics, which were advertised as “100 percent compostable”

Plastic polluted oceans and the environment, consumes resources, and the production releases CO2. And yet to be produced, according to a report by the FEDERAL government and the Heinrich Böll Foundation worldwide over 400 million tonnes per year – and rising. More than a third of which is packaging. Nevertheless, alternative approaches are developed. But how feasible are these Alternatives really are, and how eco-friendly? The Reality Check of some of the more popular candidates.


Not always it has to be something brand-new: glass containers can be used as packaging for all sorts of products. “Glass is a beautiful Material because it is super recyclable,” says Elke Salzmann of the consumer. And also another Problem with many of the other packages does not occur in the glass: It does not release any pollutants to the food, says Salzmann.

However, glass has another decisive disadvantage. “Glass is heavier than plastic,” says Tom Ohlendorf, packaging expert at the WWF. The weight is not only an important selection criterion for consumers who do not want to drag so hard. Also on the transport because more fuel is used and more CO2 emitted when the load has more and more weight. And: “glass is expensive to manufacture,” adds Elke Salzmann. Therefore, it is also sustainable if it is used as a Material for reusable packaging.

Paper and cardboard

In the meantime, you can see them at least as often in the shops like their counterparts made of plastic: paper bags, often made of brown paper – recycled. You think. “There is also always plan For the environment. And then, it is designed in such a way that it is reminiscent of recycled paper. But this is not a pure recycled product,” says Salzmann. Finally, the paper would have to be added in the production of substances, so that it is tear-resistant and sufficiently robust. In comparison to the bag based on Crude oil, a better eco-balance, would have to be used the paper bag three to four Times again – but that would be unlikely, says Elke Salzmann.

“The disposable carrier bag made of paper is not necessarily better than the carry bag is made of plastic,” notes Tom Ohlendorf. It would have to be attributed to the resources that are necessary for the production of necessary: According to the Federal environment Agency are used for a kilogram of paper, approximately 50 liters of water. “Paper and paperboard, of course, have the advantage that it causes in the environment no harm, because it breaks down,” says Salzmann. “For the future but it would be to put on reusable. Instead, more and more To-Go products in the paper cups offered”, says the expert of the consumer.

Here, there is another Problem: For any possible contaminants in paper and it printed color, no EU limits. In a study in July of this year, the European consumers found Association BEUC, among other things, in napkins, and mugs of coloured paper to attract substances that are suspected of cancer.


In recent years, they have been the subject of much discussion: bioplastics. Often they are based on strength and can – if you will only do is produced from renewable raw materials – without the finite resource of oil. But be careful with the term “bioplastics” is not protected. “Bioplastic is a agricultural plastic. He doesn’t have to be organic,” says Salzmann. Thus, there is also pesticides could be used. In addition, plastics do not have to be manufactured entirely from renewable raw materials, to be allowed as “organic” are referred to.

Also after use, there is a Problem: Although the bags are, by and Large, compostable – but: “In industrial composting plants, certain conditions are required, among other things, the temperature, so that these bioplastics decompose at all,” says Ohlendorf. However, even in these systems, they would be sorted out frequently and burned, because they are unable to distinguish, either regular plastic bags or longer to Decompose in need than the Rest of the organic waste. On the domestic compost, the decomposition of the bags will not work – and nor in the sea.

“Good Agricultural plastics are then, if you can produce them from waste products of agricultural production”, says Elke Salzmann. An example of the Bagasse is. The mushy remnants of the sugar cane after it has been pressed for the sugar production. “This Material is supposed to do without additives. However, these are relatively new products. Because you have to wait and see how the prove themselves, if they are independently tested in the laboratory,” says Salzmann.


This company from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern relies on a mixture of straw and cellulose

The shipping trade is always larger – and thus also the consumption of packaging material. To counteract the Trend of plastic air cushions and Styrofoam for protection during transport, go to some of the researchers “back to the roots” – to the straw. If without other materials in the Form of pressed or with a cellulose mixed – “this is definitely an Alternative that will grow to become more popular,” says Ohlendorf.

“Of course, you have to look where the straw comes from, whether extra for this product, new fields are created, or whether it is actually a by-product,” restricts the expert. Moreover, it needed to be looked at, what happens after use. “It is left untreated, the straw, then you must dispose of it sometimes in the compost bin. But it’s in the yellow bag, then it would be lost.”

With So many Alternatives – but which will win?

All creative ideas: “The best packaging in the end is the one that doesn’t exist,” says Tom Ohlendorf. But until then, as both experts agree, we should rely mainly on reusable or at least recyclable products – and which might also be of high quality conventional plastic.