Exploring Alternatives Materials to Plastics
80% of the plastics that end up in the oceans come from Asia. 40% of that lot comes from packaging. We delve a little deeper on what’s out there in alternative materials to plastics.
According to a 2017 report by Ocean Conservancy, Thailand is one of the world’s top five plastic polluters. Thailand is one of the world’s top five plastic polluters, according to the Ocean Conservancy. The other four are countries within Asia: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Altogether, these countries were responsible for more than half of the plastic that gets into the world’s oceans annually, said to be between eight and 13 million tonnes.
Of all the packaging types, flexible packaging is by far the largest contributor to waste in the region. Within this category, single-use plastics such as plastic bags and food packaging have been identified as main culprits.
Plastics are so ingrained in our everyday lives that it is hard to imagine life without plastics. Outside of ocean pollution, there is noticeable plastic pollution in our daily lives. Additionally, extracting petroleum and natural gas required to produce plastic is damaging. On a more direct effect is that toxic chemicals in plastic can leak into the food and beverage product it holds.
Fortunately, the increased focus on environmental impacts of plastics are constantly creating new opportunities for sustainable packaging material producers. Today, there is an array of eco-friendly alternatives already available on the market.
Before there was plastic, there was glass. Packaging that is plastic now, likely originated as glass. Glass is a 100% recyclable packaging option, and in the food packaging world is generally recognised as safe. Glass is made from sand – an abundant natural resource. Glass is renewable, easily recyclable and reusable.
Glass works great for food storage, as it does not contain chemicals that can leach into the food, drink or body. Furthermore, food containers made from glass can withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures. Apparently glass has some taste preserving qualities due its odourless nature. Perhaps there’s a truth to this, haven’t we often heard how soft drinks taste better from a glass bottle than a plastic one? Additionally, glass has a distinct, stylish look beyond nostalgia.
The two only but perhaps major cons would be its weight and its fragility compared to plastic.
Corrugated is renewable. One popular reason for the use of corrugated material for packaging over many others is that it is inherently environmentally friendly. Corrugated is manufactured using a renewable resource, is recyclable, and can be manufactured using recycled content. Most corrugated boxes can also be reused to pack new items which reduces the cost of energy and other materials required to make a new packing box. Use boxes that are produced out of 100% recycled linerboard to take eco-friendliness a step further.
Approximately half of the goods manufactured in the world are stored in corrugated packaging. This is not only due to manufacturers knowing the immense benefits associated with this form of packaging, but also due to consumer preferences. Benefits of going corrugated is its light and provides better protection. The look may not be attractive at its raw form, but there are technologies to easily customise corrugated packaging.
Types of eco-friendly packaging include bioplastics that are biodegradable or bio-compostable. Bioplastics can also be materials that are bio-sourced, or made out of renewable raw materials. Bioplastics can help companies stay competitive by helping to meet rising consumer expectations of sustainability.
There are different types of bioplastics:
1. Aliphatic Polyesters
Aliphatic Polyesters are a biodegradable collection of biobased polyesters such as PLA (polylactic acid), PHB (poly-3-hydroxybutyrate), PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), PHV (polyhydroxyvalerate), polyhydroxyhexanoate PHH, polyamide 11 (PA11). Among these, PHB and PLA are the most extensively studied as both are truly biodegradable and biocompatible and have a relatively high melting point.
However, its use is still limited due to its high price, overall look, low physical performance such as brittleness, and narrow processing window. They can be mixed with other polymers and compounds to improve its properties.
2. Starched-Based Bioplastics
Starch-based bioplastics can be derived from corn, wheat, potato, tapioca, sorghum, cassava and even mango seeds. Starch is defined as a natural polymer that possesses many unique properties, which make it ideal for packaging and edible film applications. Starch-based bioplastics are produced from starch, blended with thermoplastic polyesters with an aim to obtain a biodegradable and compostable product.
Starch is an attractive biopolymer owing to its abundance, low cost, and potential application in the production of biodegradable films in the form of thermoplastic starch (TPS). The global starch-based bioplastics market is expected to reach $561 million by 2023, registering a CAGR of 3.7% from 2017 to 2023. Asia-Pacific is anticipated to lead the market in 2023, and is projected to grow with a CAGR of 4.5%, in terms of value. The flexible packaging segment occupied nearly one-fifth of the total market in 2016.
3. Fibre-based Bioplastics
Fibre-based bioplastics that are produced using fibres or cellulose esters. These are typically made out of wood and bamboo, although other unique derivatives include durian, yuka, banana peels and pineapple waste.
Microfibrillated cellulose (MFC) is a 100% renewable material based on cellulose fibers extracted from wood. According to a report by GlobalData, the use of MFC is currently niche and severely limited by production capability, but has the potential to replace existing paper & board in food and drink cartons. Another fibre-based bioplastic is Durapulp, which is a mixture of wood fibre and a bio-polymer called PLA. Durapulp is a material that is approved for food contact and is one of the leading contenders in replacing food packaging for ready meals and raw meat products.
This article was first published in Issue 09/2018 of Print Innovation Asia. Read the full feature here.