The Development of Plant-based Plastic Packaging
2019-05-29 11:45 Wednesday
While sustainable plastics sound like an oxymoron, some innovators are already starting to look for new ways to develop the material.
It is hard to imagine anything that's as useful as plastic packaging; it's cheap, versatile, can be made into almost any shape you can imagine. It protects food safety, and in many cases can replace other more expensive and heavier materials like metal, glass, or wood.
What should companies do? The obvious solution is to switch from plastic packaging to reusable. However, this is simply not practical for many products.
Plant-based plastics represent one possible avenue for development. They are a type of plastic made from renewable biological resources, rather than conventional plastics made from fossil fuels. These biological resources range from vegetable oils to cornstarch to food waste.
A major benefit of plant-based plastics is that they can be composted while maintaining the same level of convenience as traditional plastics.
This "convenience" factor is crucial to the nature of packaging. Syosset, the Emerald brand based in New York, produces biodegradable, biologically-formed, disposable plastics made from treeless materials. These materials mainly come from agricultural residues from crops such as sugar cane and wheat. RJ Bianculli, the company's general manager, said: "Only 9% of all plastic is recycled. At the macro level, compost and compostable organic products are going to be the garbage of the future."
Compostable plastic is a good solution, especially for compostable snack bags which have become an attractive alternative to nonrecyclable multilayer metal liners. Currently, PepsiCo is working with Danimer Scientific to develop a third-generation decomposable PHA base bag. The material has also been shown to break down into harmless components in seawater within 90 days.
Other innovative products are not ready to give up recycling. Described by Sandeep Kulkarni, adjunct professor of forest biomaterials at North Carolina State, plant-based plastics are now widely defined as "either from a biological source or biodegradable".
In today's world, there is still no Coca-Cola bottle that can decompose. This means that many forms of packaging still need to be recycled, says Kulkani. Many modern approaches must rely on recycling systems, including improved waste management systems for already recyclable containers and packaging.