Please note that this is simplified and doesn't cover the issue that some countries have better/worse recycling systems in place.
Packaging has always been a point of contention in the consumer industry. It is a multifaceted issue that is often oversimplified (even in this article we have had to simplify it or we would be writing an entire essay!) The question of packaging is one that needs to be addressed and it's also something that has been garnering interest especially with the rise of the zero waste movement, but sadly it seems that the waters are being muddied and greenwashing is yet again prevailing in an industry that needs to be more transparent!
I want to start by saying that at KINN we are for re-using and reducing waste where possible, and this is why we are working on some very exciting refills solutions at KINN HQ.
Zero-Waste is an interesting term as nothing can truly be zero-waste. From food production to how it even gets to the refill store there is waste created at every step of the way, and so zero-waste should be re-labelled as minimal waste. Minimal waste is certainly something we should aspire too and it is clear that cutting down on throw-away items, fast fashion and single-use items need to be a priority. However, as consumers, we have to be mindful that just because something claims to be better, that isn't necessarily always the case.
Let's look at the Glass Vs Plastic debate as an example.
I will start with plastic, as the more demonised form of packaging, it is easier to list of negatives. It is, for the most part, made using fossil fuels and this contributes to the wider problem that harvesting these raw fuels creates. Plastic can also only be "downgraded" and so through each recycling journey it goes on it becomes something a little less. I.e. post-consumer recycled plastic bottles will not come back to our shelves as a bottle but will instead perhaps find new life as a tyre. Whilst this isn't necessarily a bad thing that plastic can be re-used in many iterations before it reaches the landfill, it still will sadly end up as a waste product one day and the ensuing problem of micro-plastics while it breaks down then come in to play. With most countries unwilling to invest in the correct infrastructure to recycle our plastic we also face the issue that most will not be re-used.
But what about bio-plastics (plant bottles) aren't these better?
A Bio-plastic/Plant Bottle (which we have seen some brands claim is not even plastic... rest assured it is) replaces petroleum-based polyethene from PET with a natural "plant" based polyethene. Thus we are able to successfully remove our reliance on fossil fuels to raw plastic. However, there are certain drawbacks to the biopolymers. Biopolymers require agriculture and plants to make the plastic and these are not necessarily harvested from sustainable sources (in some cases more land is being cleared to grow these crops). It is important to make sure that the bioplastic comes from the waste of another industry. At KINN we are looking into using the waste products from the sugar cane industry. However there is another layer of the issue and that is the chemicals and pesticides used to farm the raw material (whether a waste product or not), for companies who do not support Monsanto, the use of harsh chemicals and pesticides it can be problematic to find a steady supply of organically farmed raw material. Aside from the raw material a bio-plastic is, in essence, the same as any other plastic.
So surely glass is better than plastic?
Glass definitely has its benefits, providing we reuse it in our own homes and do not treat glass as a throwaway item. One argument for glass is that it is made of natural materials like sand. However did you know that we currently harvest around 50 billion tons of sand per year, this is twice the amount that our riverbeds naturally produce. Not all sand can be used to make glass and so this creates an issue of overuse as we do not currently recycle glass at a rate that makes it a closed-loop system.
The furnaces used to produce glass are heated (for the most part) using fossil fuels...the same ones found in our plastic, and they have to be heated to 2600-2800 Fahrenheit (this is a lot hotter than plastic). Glass is heavier and this means that any transportation of the product will produce more emissions and unfortunately in America alone, only one third (1/3) of glass is recycled. A lot of glass will find its way into landfill or as a cheaper alternative to recycling it is broken down and used as landfill covers. Landfill covers are a mix of materials that essentially helps to stop from scavenging, landfill fires, the release of gases and vile smells etc. Once in landfill glass can take almost 1 million years to break down (though it will break down without adding micro-plastics to the environment due to its natural form).
Sadly both forms of packaging have knock-on effects and this means that it isn't so cut and try to switch from one to the other (as it also relies on our own personal use and disposal) to make one choice preferential to the other. This is why refills and circular solutions are so important. KINN is also working with Charrli Refill to bring a circular aspect to packaging to those in the areas that Charrli serves.
But that doesn't mean we should just give in and use whatever. This is why after a lot of research we decided that at KINN re wanted to create refills (but not just any refills) and we cannot wait to introduce to you what we have coming next. It's certainly something we are proud off especially as we believe that the best packaging is packaging that can be re-used (regardless of its raw material!)
A final thought if that regardless of packaging if you are using a product in glass or plastic that is filled with harsh chemicals, dyes and other unsavoury ingredients you are still contributing to the pollution and damage of our environment. So always make sure you take into consideration what is in the bottle as well as the bottle itself.
It is becoming ever more apparent that our governments are not serving our needs when it comes to waste disposal. The practice of recycling even if adopted by the majority of people is sadly not efficient enough yet and many local councils are not in a position to recycle anything! We must pressure our representatives to invest in the infrastructure to make recycling a better process for all materials.