When the life cycle of a packaging comes to its (temporary) end, more or less carbon dioxide can be released again, depending on the material. Compared to plastic products, compostable materials, for example, have many ecological advantages: They decompose naturally with the help of atmospheric oxygen and microorganisms. However, composting facilities must offer the necessary conditions for the process. Your waste management company will tell you whether this is the case at your location.
If the material is neither degradable nor can be processed into a recyclate, it often ends up in incineration plants. The waste burnt there is usually used to generate energy, but the incineration process releases further harmful CO2.
Other materials can be reused in parts at the end of the product life cycle. One example of this is disposable glass: according to the Federal Environment Agency, an average of 62.7 per cent of used glass was used in glass production in 2008. The colour of the glass also plays a role: in 2006, the recycling rate of green disposable glass was 90 per cent. For caterers, the recycling rate should play a major role in the choice of environmentally friendly packaging.
The transport of raw materials, new and used packaging also has a negative impact on the CO2 footprint of the packaging. Therefore, for a packaging concept with the lowest possible environmental impact, short distances between cultivation, production and consumption sites are ideal. Local resources such as birch wood (see below) and their further processing on site are an excellent way to sustainable gastronomy.
The impact of short transport distances in freight transport is shown, for example, by the figures of the Federal Environment Agency. The office has compared different means of transport and determined how many grams of greenhouse gases they release with each tonne-kilometre (tkm) - i.e. with each tonne of freight and each kilometre of distance. With local raw materials, caterers can make an immense contribution to climate protection - with every kilometre saved.
- Truck: 111 g/tkm
- Goods train: 16 g/tkm
- Inland waterway vessel: 31 g/tkm
6. Recyclability and compostability
Whether the materials used can be recycled or composted is not only relevant in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. The less packaging material is discarded through recycling, the more resources can be saved during reprocessing. Ideally, products can be completely recycled and enormous amounts of raw materials can be saved. This is particularly relevant for petroleum-based materials, as the raw material only occurs in limited quantities on earth. Industry is already finding it difficult to find and develop new oil deposits.
When it comes to environmentally friendly consumer behaviour, many consumers ignore an important aspect. In addition to the extraction and production of raw materials, the disposal of packaging also determines how environmentally friendly it is. The end of the product life cycle plays just as important a role as the beginning. Here, too, the catering industry can make its contribution. When looking for packaging that can be disposed of ecologically, restaurateurs often come across three key terms: bio-based, biodegradable and compostable. To ensure that you are not surprised by the disposal options and that you can effectively minimise the environmental impact of your catering business, we will briefly introduce the three terms from the packaging industry.
Packaging materials that consist entirely or partially of renewable resources are considered biobased. Biobased materials include, for example, grass paper and wood. However, the term also applies to composite packaging such as plastic-coated cardboard. It does not necessarily have to be a bioplastic, so that packaging with a fossil content can also be called biobased. In this respect, the term covers a broad spectrum of packaging with different added ecological value. This is because particularly environmentally friendly materials such as corn starch, which are both biodegradable and compostable, also fall under the term biobased.
Biodegradable materials can be decomposed naturally by microorganisms and therefore do not need to be incinerated or recycled. What is important for the catering industry here is that biodegradability is often only possible under certain conditions. Depending on the state of the art, municipal composting plants may not (yet) be able to break down some materials. This means that your customers may not be allowed to dispose of packaging that is actually biodegradable in their organic waste.
Our recommendation: Be sure to ask your local waste management company which biodegradable materials can actually be disposed of in the household organic waste. Pass this information on to your customers and inform them about your green packaging concept in order to fulfil their desire for environmentally friendly enjoyment.
The term compostable has two meanings: its criteria differ depending on whether we are talking about private garden compost or an industrial plant. In one's own garden, compostable materials are those that decompose within a year at 30 degrees Celsius. In the Central European climate, the decomposition process takes longer than a year. Compostable in the industrial sense means that the material decomposes within 12 weeks if an industrial composting plant ensures a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius throughout.
Compostable food packaging is particularly beneficial for the environment and for your customers, as it does not have to be transported away, but can simply end up on the compost heap at home. Those who do not have a garden or compost can still dispose of compostable service packaging in an environmentally friendly way via organic waste.