Sustainability: Is it better to package nutritional supplements in paper or plastic packaging?

According to NielsenIQ’s 2021 Global Health and Wellness Report, 34% of consumers surveyed were more likely to buy products with sustainability credentials than they were two years ago. As a nutritional supplement manufacturer, we are also seeing a trend where our customers – private label owners – want to package their products in paper packaging more often. But is it really a better alternative for the planet?

Although plastics have a bad reputation, we need to look at the entire life cycle of packaging and its impact on the environment. It is not just about looking at means of paper or plastic packaging disposal.

Paper packaging

As paper is made from trees, it is a renewable material. On the other hand, more water and energy are consumed in the production process of packaging from this material. This leads to up to 3.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than plastic packaging. 

Paper is more biodegradable than plastic and is easy to recycle. However, it often ends up in landfills, where its decomposition slows. Paper-based packaging also tends to contain a layer of plastic/aluminium film to protect the nutritional supplements from moisture and other environmental factors. However, this makes it non-recyclable.

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Plastic packaging

The disadvantage of plastics is that they are made from non-renewable materials. On the other hand, plastic packaging can effectively protect products and ensure that they reach customers without compromising quality, thanks to its properties. The production of plastics generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and various filters are integrated into the production process. 

The recyclability of plastic packaging is constantly improving. Between 2018 and 2020, the amount of post-consumer plastic waste sent for recycling increased by 8.5%. However, it is currently difficult to achieve high levels of recycled plastic content in new packaging that must meet food contact criteria. This is due to contamination of consumer waste.

In financial terms, it is more cost-effective for a private label owner to package nutritional supplements in plastic packaging.

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The answer to the question in the heading of our article is not clear since, as you can see, neither material is perfectly sustainable. For example, one way to sustainability is to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging.

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