We are currently seeing a demand for both compostable and biodegradable packaging options that often originate at the retail level as one of many corporate social responsibility goals to reduce plastic consumption. Bioplastics are also one of the many trends that are unfortunately influenced by ongoing legislation focused on banning single-use packaging without rightly considering all the variables.
While we are regularly researching and open to effective sustainable packaging alternatives, the argument for bioplastics has many flaws that have to be considered in the big picture.
Key Considerations in the Biodegradable Packaging Conversation:
- While claiming to be a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics have not been perfected in the extrusion process, and at this time are not suitable for standard fresh produce packaging applications.
- In research conducted in 2010 through the University of Pittsburgh, it was determined that bioplastics production resulted in a greater amount of pollutants, contributing to ozone depletion significantly more than traditional plastics.
- Bioplastics and other compostable options have not yet proven they can last as long or perform as well as current reusable/recyclable options in extending product shelf life. In previous testing, bioplastics scored underwhelmingly in life cycle analysis due to the combination of negative impacts on both agricultural and chemical processing.
- Bioplastics originate from crops that would otherwise have been used in food production, considerably competing for land and requiring more than 3.4 million acres. Not only do bioplastics require more land use, but they were also found to have the highest potential for toxic effects on our ecosystems.
- While the biodegradability of bioplastics is an advantage, most need high temperature industrial composting facilities to degrade and few municipalities have the required infrastructure to support such systems. Subsequently, bioplastics often end up in landfills, and if they're not provided adequate oxygen, can potentially release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
It's hard to claim that bioplastics are more environmentally friendly than traditional plastics when all aspects of their life cycle are considered: land use, pesticides and herbicides, energy consumption, water use, greenhouse gas and methane emissions, biodegradability, recyclability and more.
Biodegradable packaging is still very much in the exploratory phase for fresh produce, and simply falls short in matching the many advantages of already vetted earth-friendly alternatives. If you are seeking a sustainable packaging option, the best course of action is to make sure that the types of materials you use can be easily recycled or reused in existing recycle streams. And to that end, Fox Packaging has you covered.