Scientists are working hard to design a more eco-friendly and sustainable material for packaging. While cardboard or paperboard, and many types of plastics are recycled in high percentages, there is still a lot of waste.
The growth of bioplastics will add to the question of whether paper or plastic packaging is preferable. How will it comply with government packaging guidelines and retailers own packaging guidelines? Will it cost more and affect logistics and shelf storage?
Bioplastics are getting a lot more attention and they will become even more prevalent in the years ahead. The food industry is using bioplastics for eating utensils, food clamshells, and other items and containers. The pharmaceutical industry is taking a good look at bioplastics for its pill packaging. And this thermo-plastic starch has the ability to absorb moisture, important for keeping prescription drugs or even over the counter drugs fresh.
What are Bioplastics?
There are about 8 different types of bioplastics created from different base materials.
Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch or microbiota. Bioplastic can be made from agricultural byproducts and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms. Some, but not all, bioplastics are designed to biodegrade. Biodegradable bioplastics can break down in either anaerobic or aerobic environments, depending on how they are manufactured. Bioplastics can be composed of starches, cellulose, biopolymers, and a variety of other materials. – courtesy of Wikipedia..
Recently Seaworld, the aquarium conglomerate began using bioplastic food packaging and they’re reporting they’re pleased with the consumer approval they’ve received.
Critics however, are citing that although these new bio-based plastics are bio-degradable, they don’t actually degrade for many years. They fear the general fast food eating public will just toss their plastic forks and containers out their car window believing it will biodegrade within a week or so.
So the critics are suggesting that our garbage problem will actually worsen with the introduction of bioplastics. What do you think? Are we getting false value from biodegradable packaging? Are irresponsible consumers likely to take advantage of the situation?
Technically, all bio-plastics can degrade through exposure to microorganisms, however many petroleum based bio-plastics are really not considered biodegradable. So let’s leave them out of this discussion.
Bioplastics Production in Asia
Everything in Asia grows fast so it shouldn’t be any surprise that bioplastic production has caught on there. European Bioplastics estimates production in Asia will grow an astonishing 400% by 2018.
Production of non-biodegradable bioplastics will grow from 1177 metric tons to 5605 metric tons. This is mostly Bio-PET (derived from Petroleum) so although it’s cheaper seemingly more sustainable (recyclable), the materials aren’t going to degrade.
If a good amount of packaging is going to end up in the Ocean, we would prefer to have biodegradable forms. Instead, the problem of ocean garbage may be about to get really bad. Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia are predicted to be the worst offenders.
Will this fact change your choices on where you source your packaging materials and packaging?
Advantages of Bioplastic Packaging
• May be cheaper than carboard/paperboard corrugate
• Use plants instead of trees
• Bio-plastic may look better (transparency, shiny finish)
• Bio-plastic may enhance paperboard type packaging
• May offer human health benefits
What do you think of bioplastics? Should our pop displays and other packaging utilize bio-based materials instead of petroleum based products? Are we fooling ourselves to believe this will make a difference or is it being pursued only because bioplastics and cheaper than petroleum based PET?