Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Future of Food Packaging

Compostablility of food packaging is important when taking into account the 3.7 billion plastic cups, 365 billion plastic bottles, and 3650 billion plastic bags wasted every year. [1] Note that compostable materials are very close to biodegradable plastic but "greener" because they aid valuable nutrients back in to the soil and have ASTM standards/regulations that have to be met before they can be called compostable.

For a plastic to be considered as compostable, it must be able to break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass at a rate consistent with other known compostable materials; leaving no visible distinguishable or toxic residue. It also needs to look like compost, produce no toxic material and be able to support plant life. Compostable items are made from plant materials such as corn, potato, cellulose, soy and sugar.

Food companies all across North America are starting to move towards reducing their plastic waste and show an interest in greener, more practical packaging (e.g. Sunchips- 100% compostable package).  Hence, there is a need to develop biodegradable as well as biobased packaging as sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to replace petroleum based plastics, especially those intended for short term uses, such as dispensable products, with biodegradable plastics. 

PepsiCo is also trying to appeal to environmentally aware consumers by launching a greener plastic water bottle than their existing product. The company's Aquafina Bottled Water in an Eco-Fina Bottle uses 50% less plastic than before and its Frito-Lay unit has a new compostable package for its Sun Chips Multigrain Chips.[1] This package is said to decompose in a matter of weeks in a compost pile. 

For companies to press on with innovative designs such as these even during a recession highlights the importance of environmental concerns.  Displaying an awareness of such issues and showing a commitment to tackling them can reduce costs, increase a product's appeal to consumers and may also be a demonstration of a genuine sense of corporate responsibility. 
Despite the early teething pains and rising raw material costs, the demand for biodegradable plastics in Canada and the U.S. is expected to rise by 15% annually to 720 million pounds by 2012.[2] This market is estimated to be worth 845 million dollars in 2012 and represent less than half of a percentage point of all thermoplastic demand in the U.S. and Canada in 2007.  

In 2008 Datamonitor surveyed consumers from around the world to see how many claim to have changed their buying behavior due to concerns about excessive packaging. Shockingly, 40% of UK respondents agreed that they seek alternative products if they believe their first choice is packaged excessively. Thus further proving, that there is a huge demand for biodegradable plastics and that Canada really needs to focus more research and development to meet the consumer and market demands for this growing sector.

Biodegradable Plastics Market Growth: The Global Market for Biodegradable Plastics Reached 541 million pounds in 2007 and is Expected to Reach 1.2 Billion Pounds by 2012! This Represents a CAGR of 17.3%.
[3] Schlechter, M. (2001) Biodegradable Polymers (PLS025A). Click for Availability. Online: February, 2010.

Bio-based materials can be helpful in catapulting the economy in the next orbit of economic growth. For example, agricultural raw materials like corn and sugarcane, if utilized for the production of the monomers, can provide impetus to the rural economy by generating additional rural employment. In today’s fast-changing global political landscape, bio-based materials are strategically important to reduce the dependency of various nations on petroleum-based resources which are concentrated in certain areas of the world.  

Scientific and industrial communities around the world must continue working in tandem for the development of alternative eco-friendly, biodegradable and sustainable packaging material. [4,5]

Welcome to the era of biomaterials.

[1] Datamonitor. (2008) Greener Packaging on Tap for New Consumer Packaged Goods. Click for Availability. Online: February, 2010.
[2] Canadian Packaging Staff. (2008) Rapid Growth In Store For Biodegradable Plastics. Click for Availability Online: December 14th, 2009
[3] Schlechter, M. (2001)  Biodegradable Polymers (PLS025A). Click for Availability. Online: February, 2010.
[4] Gross, R.A., Kalra, B. (2002) Biodegradable Polymers for the Environment. Science, 297, 803-807.
[5]Auras, R.A., Harte, B., Selke, B. S. (2004)  Effect of Water on The Oxygen Barrier Properties of Polyethylene Terephthalate and Poly(Lactide Films). Journal of Applied Polymer Science, 92, 1790-1803.

© new wave ideas -Sara Bonham

1 comment:

  1. The writing is on the wall. Reduce our dependency on petro-chemical based products. Take a close look at www.go-pkg.com for info on injection molded potatoe starch!