Sustainable packaging options and their properties

How should packaging be put together so that the company can truly say that their product is sustainably packaged?

This is a question that more and more companies all over the world are asking themselves. The sustainability trend, especially in Western countries, is acute and fragmented. New packaging solutions are emerging everywhere that claim to be sustainable and ecological. Producing companies are faced with the great conundrum of choosing the right packaging to bring satisfaction to their customers on the one hand and at the same time claim as a company itself to be doing something for the environment.  

The packaging market is overrun with innovative packaging solutions that no one really knows about or has had the time to check if the claim of sustainability is really true.

Therefore, we want to bring a little clarity into the market and enlighten.  

Packaging with composite film/composite material:

With composite packaging, you can use different materials depending on the barrier properties needed to keep the product fresh. Likewise, the shapes and features for the packaging have almost no limits. This is where product management can really let off steam.

However, it would be important to point out the advantages and disadvantages of a composite material. First and foremost, let's look at the advantages of composite packaging.

Optimal barrier functions possible for each product
Long shelf life for the product
High security with product protection
A very favourable (the cheapest) option when purchasing
Various types of printing possible
In addition to the advantages, there are, of course, also major disadvantages, especially in terms of sustainability:

As it is a composite material (consisting of several types of plastic), it is not recyclable and is incinerated
For the composite materials, especially in Germany, high licensing fees are required by packaging laws, which are constantly increasing and becoming more stringent.  
There is a growing awareness of sustainability among end customers and is therefore less and less welcome  

Paper packaging with a plastic layer (> 5%) (e.g. PE):

A huge trend at the moment is paper packaging (kraft paper bags), due to the eco-look and plastic shaming that is currently taking place worldwide. "Paper is the eco-look".

Despite the high desire of end consumers to offer paper packaging more, the devil is in the detail, because paper packaging (kraft paper packaging) is not as sustainable as many think. Especially when a plastic or aluminium layer is used inside the packaging to provide good barrier properties. Because without such a layer, the kraft paper can't really protect anything.

As soon as the barrier layer exceeds 5% of the complete packaging mass, this is also referred to as a non-recyclable packaging solution.


  • Sustainable look through paper
  • Sustainable feel
  • Optimal barrier functions possible for every product
  • Long best before date for the product
  • High safety with product protection
  • (Industrially compostable (if properly separated, which usually doesn't happen)).


  • As it is a composite material, it is not recyclable
  • Also high licensing fees due to packaging law
  • Growing sustainability awareness among customers and difficult to deceive customers

Paper packaging with a plastic layer (< 5%) (e.g. PE):

Paper packaging with a plastic barrier layer of less than 5% is recyclable. However, these also have a lower barrier function and can therefore only contain products with a lower fat and moisture content.  


  • 100% recycable
  • Sustainable look through paper
  • Sustainable feel
  • Low licensing fees


  • Low barrier function
  • Not available for all applications

Paper packaging with PLA (bio-based plastic):

PLA stands for "polyactide acid" and is a plastic made from renewable raw materials (such as corn starch & sugar cane). There are the following advantages and disadvantages for paper packaging with PLA that have a plastic content higher than 5%. This is because the mix of materials with composite packaging makes the recycling process of packaging more difficult.  


  • Sustainable look through paper
  • Sustainable feel
  • Industrially compostable


  • As composite material, not recyclable
  • High licensing fees due to packaging law
  • Growing sustainability awareness among customers
  • Expensive

For paper packaging with PLA that has a plastic content of less than or equal to 5%, there are the following advantages and disadvantages:


  • 100% recyclable
  • Sustainable look through paper
  • Sustainable feel
  • Low licensing fees


  • Low barrier function
  • Expensive

Monomaterial packaging (PE or PP):

Monomaterial technology is designed to greatly simplify recyclability while offering sufficient protection for the majority of food products. Mono-material packaging consists of only one material and is therefore 100% recyclable. The reason for this is that during the recycling process in the sorting plant, packaging consisting of several materials often cannot be separated from each other and is therefore incinerated. Packaging made of monomaterials, on the other hand, can be classified without any problems and thus enters the recycling loop. Therefore, monomaterials pioneer a truly sustainable approach to the packaging industry and can support the goal of the circular economy.  

Sustainable composite film is also often used in conjunction with PE. EVOH (ethyl vinyl alcohol) is a sustainable composite film that makes products last longer, keeps them fresh and avoids flavour loss.


  • 100 % recyclable
  • Low licensing fees
  • High to medium barrier function (depending on whether with or without EVOH)


  • Education needed through plastic shaming of consumers  

A suitable sustainable solution for your demand

To be truly sustainable, you have to pay close attention to the material composition of a package. Especially when green-looking messages and headlines dominate the packaging design. Using paper packaging can quickly turn into greenwashing, and that is precisely when composite materials are used. This follows from the fact that they cannot be separated from the rest of the packaging and therefore cannot be recycled and are incinerated. Innovative solutions such as the use of PLA or packaging made of monomaterials are the first steps towards the circular economy.

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