Plastic is undoubtedly the most popular packaging material across the world. Hailed for its versatility and effectiveness, plastic is used for everything from packaging to consumer goods to coating. However, we are now facing a plastic epidemic from overuse and lack of recycling. In the wake of this issue is the rise of an alternative that promises much better results for the environment, all while remaining effective and convenient: plant-based packaging.
There are numerous options available when it comes to plant-based packaging. Not all of them are equal in terms of their versatility and carbon footprint, but one thing is for sure; they're a whole lot better for than environment than traditional plastic.
Here are 5 plant-based packaging materials that are changing the way we approach single-use packaging for good:
Before the sugarcane is formulated into a plastic alternative, it is already naturally beneficial to the environment. As sugarcane grows, it absorbs CO2 from the air. It is estimated that for every kilogram of sugarcane "plastic" produced, 3.09 kilograms of CO2 are removed from the air. That's a huge deal, considering the excessive amounts of CO2 created by the production of regular plastic products and packaging.
What's most promising about sugarcane packaging is its ability to be used on a large scale. Mega companies such as Proctor and Gamble are already dabbling in plant-based packaging materials, with many of their shampoo and conditioners being packaged in sugarcane-derived plastic bottles. Plus, the cost to manufacture sugarcane packaging is virtually the same as it is to manufacture traditional plastic, making it a tangible solution for businesses around the world.
Some major companies such as Proctor and Gamble are already using sugarcane products for their packaging
It sounds crazy at first, but certain components of mushrooms actually serve as sturdy bases for packaging materials. The roots and outer layers of mushrooms contain what is known as mycelia. This material is then mixed with organic materials (such as oats) to create a moldable, structurally-sound material.
Mushroom-based packaging is completely compostable, which is something most other plant-based packaging materials can't offer. Many manufacturers of mushroom-based packaging also use waste from local farmers to produce their products. This process is almost zero-waste to conduct, which has many consumers on board.
Although cornstarch packaging isn't the sturdiest, it still offers many benefits compared to plastic. For single-use situations such as takeout plates and containers, cornstarch is a biodegradable plastic alternative you can feel good about.
For packaging purposes, cornstarch holds up a bit better. When used as separators or support mechanisms in packaging, cornstarch products hold their shape well and protect the items being shipped. Plus, they serve as excellent replacements for styrofoam products, which take over 500 years to breakdown in landfills.
Seaweed has been on the minds of scientists and food innovators for years now. There are many different types of seaweed known to us, all of which have various properties that can fulfill a number of different needs. For example, brown seaweed contains strong natural elements that are used for many different things, like disposable water bottles.
One of the largest draws for seaweed packaging is its abundance. Growing and harvesting the other plant-based packaging ingredients requires water and energy (for the most part). Seaweed, on the other hand, grows in copious amounts naturally. Some seaweed species even grow up to 3 meters per day. In fact, brown seaweed is so abundant that just 0.03% of the entire seaweed population could completely replace all PET plastic products!
Seaweed is one of the most versatile and well-known plant-based packaging materials
Although it still has the word plastic in it, bioplastics are a promising alternative to traditional plastics. For the majority, bioplastics are made from renewable biomass sources, meaning that they have the ability to be broken down naturally. However, some bioplastics use old plastic particles to create a more substantial product, which can then be recycled and reused again.
The problem with some bioplastics is just that; they can't be fully broken down. Instead, they'll have to be reused in other products. Plus, the term "bioplastics" is more of an umbrella label, meaning that there are many different versions of what they could consist of.
There are two main types of bioplastics: polylactic acid (PLA), and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PLA is formulated from natural, biodegradable materials that are carbon-neutral and edible. PHA, on the other hand, is oftentimes genetically engineered. The process involves producing a plastic-like result from organic materials. This material can then be used for a number of purposes, including medical supplies and skin substitutes.
At this point in time, we need to welcome change. Our environment is suffering at the hands of excessive plastic exposure. It is estimated that since the 1950s, we have produced over nine billion tons of plastic. What makes this fact even more alarming is our lack of capacity to deal with all of it. We don't have the resources to recycle all of it, or dispose of it properly. What we are left with is an overflow of plastic into our landfills and oceans.
When it comes to plant-based packaging, it won't be a one-size-fits-all deal. There isn't a single solution that can handle the demand for all plastic packaging and products. Rather, we will most likely have to use trial and error to figure out what alternatives can be used for which industries, and at what capacity. No matter what the process takes, any change is better than none, and now is the time to start moving towards a more sustainable future, one industry at a time.