In today’s marketplace, where consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive about packaging’s role in environmental issues, it seems bioplastics would be the perfect answer. Nowhere would this be more important than in the flexible packaging segment, which faces growing concerns about the use of plastics — its primary material.
Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources. Bioplastics can decrease dependence on petroleum while still yielding a product that provides benefits similar to traditional plastics. Biodegradable plastic can be broken down completely into water, carbon dioxide and compost by microorganisms under the right conditions. “Biodegradable” implies that the decomposition happens in weeks to months. Bioplastics also can be formulated for recyclability.
According to a recent Technavio study, growing awareness about environmental pollution and the need for sustainability is compelling brand owners to adopt more sustainable packaging, increasing the demand for flexible bioplastic packaging.
Technavio writes that governments across the world have implemented legislation requiring the use of bioplastics over hazardous polymer and plastic materials. These initiatives and stringent regulations on the use of plastic are encouraging end-user industries to shift to bioplastics, including flexible bioplastic packaging.
Although use of bioplastics is growing at a rate estimated to be nearly 20 percent annually, this material is still a fraction of the market. So, why haven’t bioplastics claimed a larger share of the U.S. flexible packaging market? While bioplastics can offer many benefits, there also several concerns that inhibit greater use:
- Limited shelf life. Some of the most sustainable bioplastics have a limited shelf life, which is not ideal for many companies looking for the right type of packaging.
- Require industrial composting. Industrial composting is necessary to heat most bioplastic to a temperature that allows microbes to break it down. Without that intense heat, bioplastics won’t degrade on their own in a meaningful timeframe.
- Not completely biodegradable. Not all bioplastics are biodegradable. If the main benefit is the rapid decomposition, not all bioplastics live up to the hype.
- Potential contamination. Most bioplastics are compatible with existing recycling systems. However, some bioplastics can contaminate petroleum-based resins and making the recycled product unusable. If the type is not clearly marked, these plastics might get shipped to landfills.
- Uncompetitive pricing. Many bioplastics are 20 to 30 percent more costly than comparable traditional plastic materials. However, prices are coming down as the technology improves.
Overall, bioplastics have a much lighter environmental footprint compared to conventional plastic. What’s more, bioplastics tend to equal a less polluted ecosystem if they are discarded properly.
As MINI PAK’R states in a recent blog: “It’s apparent that the development of plastic alternatives haven’t reached a stage where they could be reasonably adapted and scaled at an industrial level. However, responsible bioplastic technology does exist and is advancing in a way that, if we adjust our infrastructure to handle it, could lead to a future of planet-friendly plastic.”
John Kalkowski Editor-in-Chief
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