This is the biggest doubt when looking for the most environmentally friendly packaging. The answer may seem obvious, but will it really be so?
To answer this question, it is fundamental to understand the entire life cycle of these two materials and their respective environmental impact.
1 – Production Process
If we analyze the production of both materials, the plastic originates from the petroleum refining process, using one of its by-products, naphtha, which would otherwise be wasted.
Paper, in turn, originates in a process that can be up to 70% more polluting and has as its raw material the wood, resulting from the harvesting of trees, in addition to implying significantly higher water and energy consumption.
If we consider that, in terms of packaging, 1 kg of plastic and 1 kg of paper do not pack the same number of products, with the plastic to gain prominently in this matter, the ecology seems to tend more towards the plastic side.
2 – Biodegradable vs. Ecological
The main disadvantage of plastics comes after their use and is the basis of society’s biggest concerns, since we have all seen plastic images that have been dumped in forests, rivers and oceans and that remain there months, years or decades, posing a real threat to the environment.
In fact, plastic is a non-biodegradable material which means that when dumped in a natural environment, it will not decompose. Paper, in turn, is biodegradable and will eventually decompose.
However, dumping paper and plastic in the natural environment will be the behavior we expect from society? Of course not! Hence we consider the concept of biodegradable as a false question for this theme.
3 – Recycling
On the other hand, recycling is a real issue in this subject and shows that the answer to the ecological question is not only in the materials, but mainly in the attitude of the society towards them.
In fact, if all packaging is properly recycled, the plastic again stands out positively, since it can be recycled infinitely, unlike paper, which reaches a point where it can not be.
In addition, as during the production process, plastic also consumes fewer resources and releases less pollution during the recycling process.
4 – Material vs. Attitude
Responding to our initial question, the plastic is produced and recycled in processes with less ecological footprint and is in our hands to make its non-biodegradability not a threat.
Considering the entire life cycle of the materials and the society’s responsibility to give them due treatment, it is perfectly possible to state that it is possible to use plastic as packaging material and to have an ecological footprint inferior to paper.