Packaging

Water-soluble packaging: A new plastic alternative

Water-soluble packaging is a plastic-like material which effectively dissolves in water, with no harmful residuals. Could this material be utilised for eCommerce packaging?

We all know of the damage plastic pollution is having on our planet and its oceans- could water-soluble packaging be the answer. Plastic packaging is undoubtedly one of the main culprits of this problem, with many fast fashion and eCommerce companies supplying their products in excessive amounts of plastic films and bags.

Consumer trends are changing, and with the rise of eCommerce in the past few years, there is also a necessity to ensure that these companies take responsibility to ensure this growth is sustainable. 

More and more plastic alternatives are being developed for retailers, manufacturers and eCommerce companies to consider, and Green Ocean Group may have found the solution. They offer water-soluble and compostable shopping bags, garment bags, laundry bags and packaging film that can be dissolved in hot water.

Hailing from Australia, Green Ocean Group was founded by husband and wife duo Jose and Natalia, who want to distribute water-soluble and compostable products to replace single-use plastics bags and some of the plastic packaging films. Their main goal is to push the industry towards a more sustainable future.

Plastic-like packaging that can be dissolved in water after use? It almost sounds too good to be true! Green Ocean Group are offering a real, sustainable alternative that could just well be the future of the retail industry.

What is water-soluble packaging?

Water-soluble packaging means that it is a type of packaging that can dissolve in hot water. Green Ocean Group’s products are not made out of actual plastic. Instead, their products are all made from a bio-based material that is sustainable and friendly to the environment.

The main ingredient in this bio-based material is polyvinyl alcohol, or PVOH for short, which is a synthetic polymer created without the heavy toxic metals that are often damaging to the planet. It’s also odourless, biodegradable, and water-soluble. Much like the wrapping film that you find on a dishwasher or laundry tablet, Green Ocean Group’s packaging dissolves when it comes into contact with boiling water.

Green Ocean GRoup water-soluble & compostable films are certified with ASTM D6400 (from the US), EN 13432 (from Europe), and GREENPLA (from Japan), the top level of compostable material standards and certifications. The AS4736 Australian certification of compostable material with Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) is in progress.

Recycling vs Dissolving Packaging
Recycling vs Dissolving Packaging: What are the benefits? Source: https://www.greenoceangroup.org/

What can it be used for?

The primary use of Green Ocean Group’s water-soluble packaging is to offer an alternative to plastic packaging that has polluted the planet’s oceans. It is ideal for a variety of diverse applications, including shopping bags and retail packaging such as:

  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • Laundry bags
  • Sunglasses
  • Gift boxes 
  • Books
  • Magazines

All their films and bags can be used on conventional packaging and printing machinery, making it an ideal choice for retail and eCommerce brands who are looking to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging. However, they do state that their packaging is not yet ready to use for food wrapping, so for companies looking to sell food online, this water-soluble option would not be usable just yet.  

Manufacturers and retailers are under enormous strain from consumers to act on plastic pollution, more so than governments, so this water-soluble packing could alleviate some of that pressure.

Water-Soluble retail bag
Water-Soluble Plastic Bag Alternative. Source: https://www.greenoceangroup.org/

How does water-soluble packaging work?

Green Ocean Group have stated that there are two ways to dispose of their packaging. The bags or film must be used for a minimum of two years before one of the following options can be considered:

  • Dissolve it (recommended)- All bags and films can be dissolved with hot water, 70°C or above, stirring until fully dissolved, which is usually less than 5 minutes.
  • Compost it- If not dissolved, the bags and films can be composted to degrade 90% within 180 days in compostable conditions.

It is not recommended to use the product as a bin liner. Green Ocean Group state that if the bag gets to landfill, it will be difficult for it to biodegrade naturally. Although the dissolvable option seems to be the best option for disposing of the packaging, it remains to be seen what effects this is having in the long run. However, this does not take away from the fact that Green Ocean Group’s water-soluble and compostable packaging is a greener and more sustainable alternative to plastic.

When dissolving the films, there is no pollutant residue and can be flushed down the sink with no problems. The only issue comes with any printing personalisation on the film. The Green Ocean Group ink has no official compostable certification, but the ink is eco-friendly, as it does not contain any heavy metal, no benzene, and ketone.

The challenges

Water-soluble packaging technology does seem to have the potential to offer a new sustainable packaging option, with an amazing end-of-life solution. There are however clearly some challenges that should be considered.

With a very unique end-of-life process, how likely is it going to be that everyday consumers will take the time to dissolve their eCommerce packaging rather than disposing of in the bin? At scale, this is likely to be a big challenge, however, with consumer trends evolving at a rapid pace, this could change drastically in the coming years.

Rain and general moisture are commonplace during the shipping of a package. This is the primary reason why plastic has been so widely used by the logistics industry, as no one can question its effectiveness in protection against moisture. As a product designed to dissolve in water, there would need to be clear testing done to ensure its ability to perform as an eCommerce satchel.

What are the current problems with plastic packaging?

eCommerce has seen substantial growth over the past ten years, especially in contrast with traditional retail. Online shopping means a lot more shipping, with most products purchased online being handled numerous times before finally reaching the customer. 

To protect their goods and merchandise in transit, eCommerce companies often resort to using excessive packaging that is usually made from plastic and cannot be recycled. Most of this packaging, such as Styrofoam and bubble wrap, ends up at landfill sites, or worse, in the ocean.

Plastic waste ready for inspection before being sent to Malaysia

Many consumers have become savvier and aware of their environmental impact. As a result, eCommerce companies are having to step up their packaging efforts to become more eco-friendly. 

Traditional retailers should take note too, as single-use carrier bags and packaging is still being produced on a mass scale to supply branches of famous chains across the globe. The responsibility of providing a greener, free alternative to the 5p plastic bag rests on the company’s shoulders, not the consumer’s.

Is Green Ocean Group water-soluble packaging the future?

Green Ocean Group’s water-soluble packaging has potential for eCommerce retailers to utilise. It can help build sustainable value for businesses by helping their consumers reduce their carbon footprint when shopping online. 

Although it is yet to be seen whether the water dissolving disposable method is 100% viable for eCommerce packaging, the concept is an exciting development and one that should be monitored closely. Instead of producing and using plastic bags and films, retailers can look to provide their customers with a water-soluble packaging that isn’t toxic and doesn’t harm the environment.

Green Ocean Group is offering retailers and eCommerce brands a clear plastic alternative, that will help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the sea or landfill.  Check out Green Ocean Group’s website for further information on this new sustainable packaging alternative.

Further Reading: Plastic vs Cardboard Packaging: A Complex Choice. Read More

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