Packaging has become a quintessential part of a brand and its image. Initially considered practicality, packaging now has a wide array of functions, including brand promotion and helping build trust with the consumer. Over the years, commonly used packaging materials have constantly changed. Broadly speaking, paper and plastic packaging have remained the most commonly used materials for this purpose. Plastic has been particularly dominant over the past few decades, but in recent times there has been a concerted move away from plastic due to a shift towards sustainable practices.
This article will examine the paper vs plastic debate, highlighting its pros and cons. Any such attempt involves deciding the major points of contention. There are three main criteria to assess when comparing different packaging materials. These are :
When it comes to functionality, there is no clear winner. Both paper and plastic play an important role in the industry and are reliable materials that have been used over a long period of time.
Paper is particularly suited to printing complex designs and highly customised branding endeavours. It comes in a variety of textures and thickness, is easy to store, and is well-suited to dry goods. Having said that, if paper isn’t fortified or mixed with an alternative material, it is particularly susceptible to mold and moisture. Hence, it isn’t an appropriate choice for wet goods.
Plastic has a wider range of uses across contexts and overall is a more versatile material. It is suited to goods across different temperatures and even for wet goods. However, it isn’t quite as convenient to print on and does not allow for complex designs.
When it comes to production costs, plastic is significantly cheaper when stacked up against paper. It is easy to source, light and easy to transport, and supply chains have been well established over decades. Paper, considering its dependence on heavy energy usage and heavier weight, is more expensive.
Having said that, the paper industry has steadily begun implementing energy and cost-saving production methods powered by renewable sources. Governments around the world have also attempted to reduce the use of plastic.
The primary argument put forward against plastic is its non-biodegradable nature, coupled with a heavy carbon footprint. The production process for plastics involves non-renewable fossil fuels. These pollute the environment and also exist in a finite quantity. Further, when regular plastics are disposed of, they take thousands of years to decompose, at which time they release harmful toxins into the soil. Plastic waste is also often mistakenly consumed by animals, which is quite harmful to them.
On the other hand, the paper has a significant advantage in this respect considering its biodegradable nature. Paper is also made using a renewable source of energy that can be replenished. Despite this, there is room for improvement on this front. While the source for paper is replenishable, production at an unsustainable rate can lead to deforestation. Other aspects of the production process are also power-intensive and contribute towards global pollution. As the usage of paper increases even further, it is important to look towards recyclable energy in this context.
To sum up, plastic is the cheaper and more widely available packaging material and has been the packaging material of choice over decades. However, paper’s high level of practicality as a packaging choice, as well as its suitability for printing complex designs, do give it an edge. Tilting the scales further towards paper as a packaging choice is its recyclable, biodegradable nature. Paper usage has steadily been growing, and demand has never been higher. Companies like DCGpac are helping drive this change, moving the industry towards a brighter, more sustainable future.