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Shrinkwrap or ‘shrink film’ is a clear plastic film used for the packaging of finished products – either to wrap a single item or to wrap several items together. The film is applied to goods, then heated, causing the plastic to shrink and fit tightly around the product forming a complete seal.

Shrinkwrap is an affordable and durable packaging option that allows products to remain clearly visible. It is waterproof, does not easily tear or puncture and does not weaken when exposed to extreme temperatures. It is also easy to see if it has been tampered with and it can prolong shelf-life of some items. Another advantage is that it minimises the size of packaged goods, or goods that need to be bundled for transportation, meaning lower costs for storage and shipping. It is also easy for manufacturers to print essential information on this packaging. All this is great news, and the introduction of shrinkwrap revolutionised the packaging industry, however, the environmental impact has been huge.


The environmental impact of plastic shrinkwrap packaging waste

Plastic shrink wrap takes hundreds of years to break down and often ends up in landfill or is incinerated. Landfill issues are not solely related to shrinkwrap, but poor practises when it comes to waste disposal have caused vast amounts of habitat loss and released greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide and methane) which contribute to climate change. In addition, toxins leach into the soil and affect vegetation, pond, river and ocean biodiversity, as well as polluting human water supplies. The other problem with plastic shrinkwrap is that it breaks down into microplastics which are very harmful to ecosystems as they disrupt reproduction, stunt growth and cause organ damage.

Another issue that arises with both landfill and incineration is the effect of toxins on air quality. This has a substantial impact on public health such as increased risk of gastrointestinal, respiratory and nervous system disorders as well as life-limiting conditions such as cancer.


Sweets wrapped with polyolefin shrink film

The introduction of the new Plastic Packaging Tax

Given the imminent introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT) in April 2022, more companies will be looking to move towards sustainable packaging options and giving serious thought to recyclability. The
PPT applies to packaging containing under 30% recycled material for companies manufacturing or importing under 10 tonnes of packaging per year.


How has shrinkwrap packaging evolved?

Historically, shrinkwrap was made from PVC or polyethylene. However, shrinkwrap films are now available that are far more environmentally friendly, made from ethically sourced plant-based materials such as corn starch or sugarcane. This heralds a major environmental breakthrough for the packaging industry.

At Kempner we offer a wide range of greener shrinkwrap film options which contain up to 20% naturally raw materials and are fully compliant with EC legislation and ASTM standards for biodegradability and ecotoxicity. They have an LDPE rating of 4 so can safely be used for food packaging. Our sugarcane polyolefin comprises up to 51% sugarcane cellulose and compostable shrink wraps are compatible with existing shrinkwrap machinery meaning minimal cost implications on adoption.

We also supply ultra-thin polyolefin shrink films (comprising layers of polyethylene and polypropylene) which use less material than standard shrinkwrap, without compromising on strength or optics. This means less waste material if it isn’t recycled, as well as less resources being used to create it in the first place.

Rows of packed boxes

Comparing shrinkwrap with cardboard

A common misperception is that cardboard is the most environmentally friendly packaging option. Although it is greener than plastic (breakdown is months versus hundreds of years for plastic), manufacture of cardboard is actually very water intensive, generates high emissions and contributes to deforestation if not sustainably sourced. Furthermore, transportation of cardboard generates a larger carbon footprint as its weight and relative bulkiness result in high fuel emissions, and it takes up more physical storage space. Cardboard is also not a suitable packaging option for some goods as it is prone to damage and not waterproof.

The creation of shrinkwrap from renewable resources has a much smaller carbon footprint than cardboard, but there are also differences when recycling or composting cardboard and shrinkwrap. Cardboard can only be recycled if it doesn’t have ink or food waste on it and items such as staples and tape need to be removed. This often means that cardboard is not recycled, meaning it takes up more space in landfill than the equivalent amount of packaging waste created by shrink wrapped products. Furthermore shrinkwrap recyclability has dramatically improved now that compostable versions are available. With all this in mind, companies who require packaging for their products should consider the merit of ‘green’ packaging options before moving forward with a particular option.


Kempner are here to help

At Kempner we have decades of experience in this industry. We enjoy working closely with our customers to help them select sustainable packaging options as well as raising consumer awareness and providing guidance about the best disposal routes for packaging. Please get in touch if you would like more information about greener shrinkwrap packaging options.