Packaging has been around for as long as anyone can remember. As we discussed in our previous post (dating back to 1500 B.C.), packaging continues to evolve and adapt to meet new needs.
Nonetheless, plastic waste continues to accumulate and contribute to global environmental hazards. Now more than ever, it’s important to consider ways to reduce our impact on the environment.
In modern times, the term “eco-friendly” is no longer just a word to describe packaging. It has become a necessity for all businesses.
Within the past couple of years, we can see smart business owners making the switch to alternative methods of designing and producing their products with the intention of lessening their carbon and environmental footprint.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular alternative packaging materials that are currently on the market.
Biodegradable Packing Peanuts
The main purpose of packing peanuts is to prevent damage to fragile objects during shipping. Originally, StyroFoam was the main material used to produce the peanuts because of its low costs and ability to protect items.
Nonetheless, StyroFoam is actually very difficult to decompose. Over the years, biodegradable packing peanuts made from natural, non-toxic sources such as corn and wheat are beginning to replace StyroFoam.
The pros of these alternative materials include that they will easily dissolve in water after use and are 100% compostable. Moreover, unlike StyroFoam, they will not stick to your clothes after opening a package!
Corrugated Bubble Wrap
Corrugated bubble wrap is made from 100% recycled cardboard from post-consumer and post-industrial waste. Not only is this material recyclable and naturally biodegradable, but it’s also malleable so you can roll or fold it anyway you like!
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a greater interest in bamboo packaging. Why?
In general, bamboo is a very strong material and can be easily transformed into any shape or size. In turn, it offers both a sustainable and luxurious image for businesses when used to create rigid boxes.
For example, Dell, the multinational computer technology company uses this packaging material to pack its laptops!
With thermal resistance of up to 200 degrees Celsius, bamboo is ideal for takeout packaging too!
Bamboo packaging is 100% biodegradable, compostable and readily available around the world! Did you know that bamboo trees grow faster than hard wood trees? As a matter of fact, bamboo grows back up to an inch per hour!
Sugarcane, more specifically bagasse – the dry pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane is a very popular alternative packaging material within food and cosmetics industries.
Shaving companies such as Bulldog contribute to the high popularization of this material.
Due to the high cellulose and fibre content of bagasse, single-use plates and bowls made from this material can stand up to 200 degrees Celsius. That’s enough for it to be suitable for the oven and microwave!
Unlike products that require a plastic or wax coating, bagasse is naturally grease and moisture resistant so it’s perfect for any hot or cold dishes.
Overall, it’s 100% recyclable and biodegradable. It takes about 180 days for it to fully degrade in the soil and 45-60 days in a composting facility.
Cornstarch or Cornstarch Plastic (PLA) is another alternative packaging material that dominates the industry. It can be transparent or opaque in colour and offers many plastic-like properties.
Ideally, it can be used for items with limited use such as takeout packaging. In turn, PLA can offer many benefits such as:
- Resistance to food fat/oils
- Low flammability
- Good for print applications
- High aroma barrier
- UV resistance
Unlike traditional plastic, it comes from a renewable source, is 100% biodegradable and has zero toxins.
Seaweed packaging is also popularly known as edible packaging. Over the years, there have been multiple early innovators found in Europe, New Zealand, the United States and Asia where seaweed packaging has successfully replaced single-use plastics.
The benefits of seaweed packaging is that it’s a very flexible material so it can be used across multiple industries.
In particular, an Indonesian company called Evoware has developed numerous biodegradable edible products from seaweed. These include:
- Sachets for dry foods such as cereal, coffee, salt and pepper
- Sachets for liquid and semisolid foods such as sauces and oils
- Wraps for burgers, sandwiches and rice
- Packaging also available for toiletries, toothpick sachets and straws
Overall, seaweed is more readily accessible than corn or sugar cane because it grows within 45 days, can be harvested right away and doesn’t require any fertilizer! Moreover, the processing and fermenting of the materials require zero chemicals.
As one of the easiest natural resources to grow on the planet, mushrooms can actually grow packages! Shocking right?!
Located in New York, Evocative Design is a biomaterials company that provides sustainable alternatives to plastics and polystyrene foams for packaging.
They’ve developed mushroom packaging through their patented biomaterials platform that utilizes mycelium as a self-assembling, biological binder.
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony, and aids in the growth of mushrooms. In turn, it only takes 9 days for Evocative to grow packaging which is flame resistant and 100% biodegradable.
So impressed by this product, IKEA has started using this to replace its polystyrene (StyroFoam) packaging!
The Future of Packaging
It’s clear that packaging is evolving everyday, with no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Although we’ve only covered a handful of alternative materials, there’s constant product development occurring on a daily basis within the packaging industry. Development and use of other alternative packing materials include coconut shells, clam shells, shrimp skin, milk protein, potato starch and grape-skin.
Consequently, here at LeKAC, our dedicated production specialists are working hard to develop new and exciting alternative materials for you to use!
Look out for our upcoming blog series where we’ll go more in-depth on unlikely packaging materials, including how our manufacturers make them and what their main uses are.
Want more information on a particular product? Have some interesting facts to share with us? Contact us with any questions, or comment on the blog post!