Which Packaging Materials are Biodegradable?

Posted by Cpack Ltd. on

With widespread awareness of the detrimental effects of climate change and the need to slash greenhouse gas emissions, businesses and consumers are increasingly seeking more environmentally-friendly solutions in every aspect of day-to-day life.

Packaging is one area that has come under scrutiny in recent times, with plastic gaining a particularly bad reputation for being a scourge to our oceans and the planet. With the average plastic bag taking up to 20 years to degrade, and a plastic bottle hanging around for a staggering 450 years, it's no wonder that attention has increasingly been turning to the use of biodegradable packaging materials instead. But, which packaging materials count as being biodegradable?

Biodegradable defined

In order for something to be classed as biodegradable, it must decompose naturally and quickly with the aid of micro-organisms. This chemical process results in materials being broken down into carbon dioxide, biomass, and methane, and it tends to take less than a year.

Paper and cardboard

When it comes to being biodegradable, paper and cardboard are two packaging materials that certainly score top marks. Although they aren't suitable for use with all products, by using different strengths and weights of paper or cardboard they do have general widespread appeal as an eco-friendly packaging material. As well as being biodegradable, paper and cardboard are also freely recyclable, which means they can have multiple uses over their lifetime.

The rate at which paper biodegrades can vary, however. A paper towel, for example, can biodegrade faster than a fruit skin, while paper made from mechanical pulp can take much longer to decompose.

Corn starch

One of the most exciting biodegradable packaging materials to emerge in recent times is corn starch. In particular, corn starch is being used to make single-use containers, such as those supplied by takeaway and fast food establishments, as an eco-friendly option to plastic.

As well as starch, other biodegradable polymers that are increasingly finding their way into sustainable packaging include cellulose, polylactic acid (PLA), chitosan, polyhydroxy butyrate (PHB) and polycaprolactone (PCL). Some packaging products include a mix of these polymers with additives and pigments made from renewable resources.

Plastarch

Plastarch is one packaging material that has been making waves in recent times for its biodegradable capabilities. It is mainly composed of corn starch in conjunction with other biodegradable materials. The beauty of this product is that it has been adapted to be heat resistant and absorb moisture, without easily melting or softening. These qualities make it a useful packaging material, especially as a viable alternative to plastic. When used for packaging, plastarch is usually manufactured into a type of foam. As well as being biodegradable, when plastarch packaging is incinerated, it has minimal environmental impact. For instance, it produces non-toxic smoke and its end product can be safely used as a fertiliser.

Biodegradable polythene

Some manufacturers have created biodegradable bags made from polythene. Although regular polythene can take many years to decompose naturally, by including a special additive in the manufacturing process this helps to speed up the decomposition rate enormously. Rather than taking years to biodegrade, such packaging products can take a matter of months under the right conditions. Bags have also been made that are compostable.

Many savvy companies are coming up with innovative solutions to tackle the problem of mounting waste. For instance, one company has created a biodegradable bottle using eco-friendly polymers that will decompose in less than 15 years, compared to standard bottles that can take 450 years to diminish.

Another brand has designed a single-use drinks container made entirely from a seaweed extract called agar agar. Once finished with, the container can be tossed onto the garden where it will safely rot down and add nutrition to plants.

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