Businesses are aware that customer demands are constantly evolving and now, sustainability is a major concern for consumers. A recent survey by McKinsey & Company found that 66% of consumers take into account the environmental impact before making a purchase. To cater to this growing trend, companies across various industries are making an effort to offer more eco-friendly options, and packaging is one area where they can make a difference. Biodegradable packaging is a popular and effective solution in this regard. It is a type of packaging that can break down naturally, reducing its impact on the environment. If you are interested in these sustainable packaging ideas, read on to find out more!
What Is Biodegradable Packaging?
Biodegradable packaging refers to packaging materials that are designed to decompose naturally into the environment. Unlike traditional packaging, which is made from non-degradable materials like plastic and may take hundreds of years to decompose, biodegradable packaging is made from organic materials such as paper, starch, and cellulose, which break down into non-toxic substances when exposed to natural elements such as sunlight, water, and bacteria. Biodegradable packaging aims to reduce the amount of waste generated from packaging and minimize its impact on the environment, as well as to reduce reliance on non-renewable resources like petroleum-based plastics.
How to Identify if a Package is Biodegradable?
To ensure that you are getting a biodegradable package, look for one that is certified “compostable”. This certification guarantees that the package will break down safely and fully within a certain time frame, usually 6 months to a year, when placed in a home or industrial compost. This results in nutrient-rich soil being left behind.
What are Biodegradable Materials for Packaging?
Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable packaging does not have to be made from solely bio-based or plant-based materials. Instead, it depends on the molecular structure of the material, not its source. For a material to be biodegradable, its polymer chain must be able to break down into tiny pieces that can be safely consumed by microorganisms. This means that biodegradable packaging can be made from both bio-based and fossil-based polymers.
The difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable plastics lies in the strength of their molecular structure. Conventional plastic packaging, made from strong carbon chains takes centuries to break down and is therefore considered non-biodegradable. Biodegradable packaging, such as paper or cellulose, has a weaker molecular structure and will disintegrate more quickly.
What is a Fossil-Based Polymer?
Fossil fuels are energy sources that are obtained from underground deposits of dead plants and animals. They are composed of carbon chains and are obtained by extracting and burning these materials.
Typically, fossil fuels are linked with non-biodegradable, strong plastics. However, some petroleum-based plastics have a weaker molecular structure and are able to decompose efficiently and thoroughly while still preserving the strength and flexibility that makes plastic packaging appealing for manufacturers and users. These types of plastics are suitable for sustainable packaging as they provide both the durability of plastic and the eco-friendly benefits of biodegradability.
What Are the Types of Biodegradable Packaging Materials?
Cornstarch, which is obtained from corn or maize plants, has properties similar to plastic and can be used as a substitute for plastic in various products such as bottles, molded shapes, and loose-film packaging.
Many companies prefer this type of biodegradable packaging because the raw material, cornstarch, is inexpensive, simple to produce, and environmentally friendly. If disposed of correctly, cornstarch-based packaging will break down into carbon dioxide and water over a period of several months.
Mushroom packaging is created by using agricultural waste that is cleaned, ground into powder, and combined with a matrix of mushroom roots, also known as mycelium. This mixture can be molded into various shapes to form the desired packaging.
Once it has been dried, the resulting product can be used as an environmentally friendly form of food packaging, among other types of packaging. Within a matter of days, the fungal fibers bond the waste together to form a solid shape that dries and stops any further growth.
Agar, found in various types of seaweed and algae, is used to make seaweed packaging. It is frozen to form a solid, film-like substance and then compressed to create a soft cushioning material. Seaweed is a highly sustainable raw material, making seaweed packaging a desirable and eco-friendly option for packaging. It will biodegrade in soil within 4 to 6 weeks, and also helps to reduce ocean acidity.
Cellulose-based packaging is a type of biodegradable packaging made from wood fibers or cotton. It helps to reduce the amount of waste produced and provides both good printing capabilities and durability. The development of new packaging solutions is likely to increase demand for cellulose-based packaging in the future.
Uncoated cellulose packaging typically breaks down within a period of 28 to 60 days when disposed of in a compost pile or buried, while coated cellulose takes a bit longer, with decomposition occurring between 80 to 120 days.
Paper packaging has been used for a long time to protect valuable items. Nowadays, paper packaging can be made from recycled materials or from forests that are managed sustainably. It’s possible to have attractive packaging that’s also environmentally friendly. Paper is strong when compacted and is good for keeping delicate items in shape. Unlike polyethylene air pillows, which can be difficult to recycle, paper is easy to recycle.
How Is Biodegradable Packaging Made?
Biodegradable packaging is typically made by the following steps:
- Choosing a biodegradable material, such as plant-based plastics, cellulose, starch, or biodegradable polymers
- Collecting the raw materials needed to manufacture the packaging, such as cornstarch, sugarcane, or other organic materials
- Manufacturing the packaging by using processes such as molding, extrusion, or thermoforming
- Labeling the packaging to indicate that it is biodegradable and providing information about its disposal and composting instructions.
What Are the Benefits of Biodegradable Packaging?
Free of Toxic Materials
Biodegradable packaging is better for the environment as it is not made from harmful substances like phthalates or petroleum. Unlike non-biodegradable plastics that can release toxic chemicals into the air and remain in landfills for a long time, biodegradable packaging offers a more environmentally friendly option.
In addition to being better for the environment, using biodegradable packaging can also lead to cost savings in production and packaging. Biodegradable materials like bioplastics can be lighter, resulting in a reduction of resources used in production, such as water, electricity, and solid waste, as well as a decrease in emissions. Furthermore, these materials are often reusable and can be recycled, leading to lower inventory costs for brands.
Biodegradable packaging makes disposal easier as it decomposes without requiring a lot of resources.
Biodegradable packaging is made from natural and renewable materials that decompose in the environment, reducing the waste in landfills and the strain on our planet’s resources.
Boosts your Brand’s Image
By using biodegradable packaging, companies can improve their reputation as environmentally conscious and responsible, attracting customers who value sustainability.
It Increases Sales
In today’s market, consumers are increasingly aware of environmental issues and seek out products that align with their values. By using biodegradable packaging, companies can appeal to these consumers and potentially increase sales.
What Is the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable Packaging?
In choosing between biodegradable and compostable packaging, it depends on the available recycling facilities in your area. Biodegradable packaging disintegrates quickly but does not improve soil, while compostable packaging requires composting to break down and enhance soil quality. Both options are better than plastic packaging as they do not persist in the environment for centuries.
Biodegradable Packaging Trends 2023
Active packaging is a type of packaging that uses special technologies to extend the shelf life of food. It does this by controlling the internal atmosphere of the packaging to slow down the spoilage process. This type of packaging is designed to be an eco-friendly alternative to traditional packaging methods, reducing the amount of food waste generated.
Biodegradable inks are a type of ink that can break down into natural materials when exposed to the environment. This makes them a more environmentally responsible option compared to traditional inks, which can contribute to the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Biodegradable inks can be used on a variety of surfaces, including paper, plastic, and even food packaging.
Edible packaging is a type of packaging made from edible materials like chitosan, starch, or seaweed. This type of packaging is designed to be consumed along with the food it contains, reducing the amount of waste generated. Edible packaging offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional packaging methods and can also help to reduce the amount of food waste generated.
Plantable packaging is a type of packaging that is designed to be planted in the ground after use. Once planted, the packaging will biodegrade, leaving behind a potential source of new growth. This type of packaging helps to reduce the impact of waste on the environment, while also promoting sustainability. Plantable packaging is made from biodegradable materials, such as paper or seeds, and can be used for a variety of products, including food, cosmetics, and more.
Is biodegradable more eco-friendly than compostable?
Biodegradable and compostable products are not equal when it comes to being environmentally friendly. While a biodegradable product may seem like a good option, it can actually contain harmful chemical plastics. On the other hand, compostable products are usually made from natural plant materials and break down faster, but they must be composted properly to have a positive impact on the environment.
Why are biodegradable and compostable items not recyclable?
Biodegradable and compostable bioplastics are not suitable for recycling due to their designed purpose to break down in specific environments. If not disposed of properly, they can cause problems in recycling equipment. On the other hand, materials like cardboard can be biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable, making them a more environmentally friendly option.
Can you put biodegradable bags in your compost bin?
To put it simply, only bags that are specifically labeled as compostable should be placed in the compost bin. Not all biodegradable bags break down in compost and may still contain plastic.
How long do compost bags take to break down?
The amount of time it takes for compost bags to break down depends on several factors. On average, most compost bags are created to decompose within a time frame of three to six months.
What are the problems with biodegradable plastics?
Bioplastics, despite being marketed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics, can still have negative impacts on the environment. When disposed of in landfills, bioplastics can produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Additionally, these plastics do not break down in marine environments, contributing to the growing issue of plastic pollution in oceans.
Compactor Management Company (former Northern California Compactors, Inc.) offers installation and support services for waste recycling equipment such as waste compactors, balers, shredders & conveyor systems. Established in 1981, it offers waste management solutions across the United States.