Biodegradable Packaging: The Sustainable Packaging Industry’s Latest Entrant
At a time when the use of plastics has become taboo in different parts of the world, the increasing need for three types of change has become inevitable. The first includes the use of reduced packaging, next biodegradable packaging, and finally plant-based packaging.
When it comes to packaging, one of the most important ideas that come to the fore at an individual level is, what are my sustainable packaging needs; when it comes to companies also a similar question persists. Given that packaging plays an important role for the manufacturers and end-users, it is important to identify green packaging options and strategies that are practical and workable. Biodegradable packaging is processed from molecules often found in living organisms, like cellulose and proteins which for the most part can be safely consumed, and in terms of recycling it degrades quickly, and as an alternative can also be created from waste plant products.
The primary green strategy involves the number one issue in packaging which is ‘over-packaging.’ In the quest to save a product, especially breakables and edibles, apart from an over-bearing consumer who may in angst decide that multiple layers are absolutely important for their packaging, over-packaging has become an unwritten norm. The eCommerce industry in its own way has contributed to this issue.
Several luxury beauty and cosmetics brands while stating their lofty commitments about being climate forward companies almost always pack in multiple layers creating a larger carbon footprint with both increased shipping volume and packaging waste. Streamlined, snug-fit package designs could help to lower carbon footprints
The second effective strategy is Recycle and Reuse. Different companies are indulging their customers to innovatively recycle and reuse their products. In fact, recycled material for product packaging keeps the packaging in use for longer periods of time. For example, Watsons Singapore introduced their Omega-3 supplements they did it with the idea that the package could be refilled at a later date. In some cases recycled packaging inserts are used by companies – this will show your customers that you are serious about sustainability.
In the case of plant-based packaging, this kind of packaging utilizes organic matter and renewable vegetal sources to form the packaging around products. Given the abundance of supply of raw materials for manufacturing plant-based this type of packaging is less cumbersome with minimal environmental impact and lesser anxiety around a steady resource supply.
Tetra Pak was one of the first companies in the food and beverage industry to make 100% plant-based milk carton packaging. The carton made of plant-based polymers, fully traceable to its sugarcane origin became a trend that was later picked up by giants like Coca-Cola which made a 100% plant-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle produced from natural sugars found in plants. These plastic bottles are renewable and do not use the fossil fuels traditionally associated with plastic.
Bioplastics are the next ‘in-thing.’ According to Meyers, Bioplastics are a type of plastic that can be biobased and biodegradable. Biobased means the material is made from a renewable resource, while biodegradable means the material breaks down naturally in the post-use environment. Bioplastics can be as durable as other types of plastic since they only break down in specific conditions. For instance, some bioplastics are home compostable, and some are industrial compostable.
According to Sustainability Guide, when one uses mushroom packaging mycelia “consists of a network of wire-like cells that act as a natural adhesive.” This is again a welcome change from the regular plastics. Another promising idea lies in seaweed that grows in still water environments, but for practical reasons are more readily accessible than corn or sugar cane. Seaweed packaging is made through collected and fermented raw material without chemical processing. Since it is biodegradable and offers zero-waste benefits, seaweed can be a good choice for alternative sustainable packaging.
In the past few years, plant-based packaging options have grown massively consisting of 100% biodegradable and renewable material. These are the by-products of the agricultural industry that help in minimizing the waste in the supply chain. The right plant-based packaging material will depend on the products you sell and transport. For instance, if you sell food, you need to choose the packaging material to protect your food and save it from getting its flavor contaminated. Similarly, if you sell bulky items, durable plant-based material made of mushrooms and cornstarch is the right option. The idea is to create awareness amongst users to use the right kind of packaging.
Biodegradable packaging helps alleviate the long-term issues presented by the abuse of plastic usage. It is made of renewable materials, which is not the case with plastics that are made of oil. Biopolymers are synthesized in a relatively energy-efficient process, requiring much less energy than the production of plastic polymers. The most important benefit is that biodegradable packaging is free of toxic ingredients. This makes them much easier to dispose of unlike plastics which gradually pile up over time.
Lastly, biopolymers help us reduce our dependence on oil and decrease CO2 emissions. This is arguably the most important advantage to biodegradable packaging, as they work to reduce climate change, which is a worldwide issue.
While advantageous for the most part the lacuna in biopolymers is that the more the quantity of plant matter, the more the synthesis. An efficient synthetisation method must come into play in the next 50 years but this means that land devoted to agriculture must be expanded and extended sufficiently enough to provide the biomass required to produce the biopolymers needed.
Another issue is the lack of processing plants to produce these biopolymers. The production of new facilities for the purpose is an expensive, time-consuming, and polluting process that will take time. Lastly, not all biopolymers can be composted at home and require special composting facilities to be effectively composted.
Whatever the disadvantages, it is proved that when used in conjunction with metal containers biodegradable packaging is an excellent alternative to common plastic. Biopolymer based films, coatings, and bags protect perishables from coming into contact with microbes and air. They are extracted from natural products and can be produced and disposed of in environmentally sustainable ways. They represent a possible shift away from plastics that can help detach humans from our reliance on fossil fuels.
Edible packaging is a variant of plant-based packaging with one key difference, it is safe to eat. Therefore, this packaging is an ideal option for sellers who sell food and beverages. It can be a great addition to the already scrumptious offering.
The green strategies and the variants of packaging available are numerous and can only be customised adequately for a business' continued growth and success. There has been a global shift towards fighting climate change, and the way brands use product packaging is changing. The brands are using it to build a better relationship with their customers.
Today sustainable packaging is termed as an ‘alternative’ but very soon the winds of change will ensure that this becomes mainstream and all the rest including plastic relegate to the background. Those who have adopted this method are living the future in the present.
Many businesses are doing their best to minimise their carbon and environmental footprint. Popular brands are taking responsibility for their product’s impact, from sourcing materials to disposal. To procure sustainable packaging solutions is ideal for brands and showcase their adoption of eco-friendly values in real-time.
Shifting towards innovative and alternative packaging ensures that your environmentally-conscious efforts are noticed even by consumers who are becoming more aware and receptive to sustainable practices. The visual appearance of a package can influence consumer behavior, and plant-based packaging is an attractive and telling way to express the desire for change.
The product and the packaging both have a life-cycle that the manufacturer must preserve. The faster the need for alternative eco-friendly packaging is seen, the faster it will become a part of the social landscape.