Ellen Macarthur Foundation


Harmless packaging: wrap it up!

Packaging… Who hasn’t at some point been appalled by the quantity of materials that most of the “stuff” we buy comes wrapped in? From plastic-clad half cucumbers to plastic bag-sealed magazines, packaging amounts to more than 50% of all household waste. A UK company has decided to tackle the issue, not by going down the “less” route, but by making packaging better by design.

The name says it all – Harmless packaging is on a mission to change the current state of affairs, in a country where roughly 80% of the plastics we dispose of end up in landfill. By creating a range of dissolvable and compostable products, the company developed a closed-loop approach in order to meet its objective of creating products that “start in the earth harmless and end in the earth harmless”.


It’s interesting to note that Harmless warns about the misleading claims, which are becoming increasingly common, found on a wide variety of products before explaining their own difference:

Don’t be fooled by all the logos and titles you see on certain products claiming to be environmental champions – everything is biodegradable eventually; it just depends on how long you are prepared to wait.


“To be classed ‘compostable’, a material must meet the stringent EN 13432 standard. The testing process involves mixing the material with organic waste and leaving it for 12 weeks under commercial composting conditions.

After this time, the material must show evidence of being biodegraded due to microbial action. This means breaking down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass, rather than just breaking up into pieces, as degradable oil-based plastics do. To meet the standard, less than 10% of the remaining fragments are allowed to be larger than two millimetres.

The composted material is then tested for toxicity, to make sure it’s suitable to grow food crops. Finally, it’s sown with summer barley to check that it will support plant life.”

The company has created a protective ‘plastic’ bag that dissolves in water, which was notably adopted by the surf gear brand 2Thirds, and developed compostable mailing envelopes for Nokia. Harmless’s range includes corn-derived bubble bag and even fully degradable void-filling air pillows… “cheaper than LDPE (low-density polyethylene) equivalents”, claims the company!

Go further…

Read about BBC journalist Christine Jeavans’ month without plastic here


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