Biodegradable packaging can provide an environmentally sustainable alternative to the conventional materials used in shipping. The wastes produces by disposable materials that have not been designed to be sustainable are resulting in a number of serious problems. Making use of a better alternative could make a greater difference than you might realize.
Biodegradable Packaging for Environment Public Co. Ltd., known also as BPE or Biochannaoy is a Thai company, manufacturer of biodegradable, compostable and disposable tableware products. The products are made from bagasse, which is a natural product made from the pulp of sugar cane after the sugar has been extracted. .
The company was founded in January 2005 by the Doctor Weerachat Kittirattanapaiboon. The headquarters of the company is in Bangkok with its industrial facilities in the province of Chainat, approximately 188 km north of Bangkok. Major shareholders are MDS group (M.D. Synergy, Ltd.), National Innovation Agency, Ministry of Science and Technology in Thailand, and Office of SMEs Promotion, Ministry of Industry in Thailand.
The company currently has over 400 employees and produces over 200 million items per year.
The firm is the only company in Thailand to be awarded the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) Privilege in the environmental category. The factory energy runs completely on LPG and steam, and all wastes from the production process are recycled. Bagasse is a natural product, Biodegradable in 45 days in a landfill or in nature. Bagasse products can be frozen, can go to an oven, and are microwavable. The company’s products are UV pasteurized, and are safe for food contact.
Shipping delicate items without properly preparing them for shipment can leave merchandise and shipments at far greater risk of being damaged. Insulating items is an essential part of any shipping process. Selecting the right materials will allow you to ship without doing greater harm to the environment.
Why use biodegradable?
Conventional plastic is made from oil. Oil can take up to 300 million years to form.
Oil based plastic packaging that is not recyclable will usually end up in landfill sites or be washed out to sea.
Plastic packaging can take up to 1000 years to “degrade” naturally. Poisonous toxins and particles released over time pollute our rivers, harm wildlife and landfill sites scar our once beautiful landscape.
What’s the alternative?
Packaging made from natural plant materials like corn and sugarcane uses up to 70% less CO2 to produce than conventional plastic.
Unlike oil based plastic, packaging made from plants can be turned into natural compost after use in just 12 weeks.
By switching to sustainable packaging, your business can substantially reduce its carbon footprint and . Waste packaging previously destined to landfill sites could be composted or recycled instead, greatly lowering the environmental impact.
What does “biodegradable” mean?
The term “Biodegradable” refers to a material that breaks down naturally into organic components as a result of exposure to moisture, heat and naturally occurring micro-organisms. The time it takes a material to degrade depends on it’s size, genetic make-up and the level of exposure it has to these three factors.
What does “compostable” mean?
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) defines materials as “compostable” if they can degrade in a compost site. They must break down into carbon dioxide, water and organic matter at a similar rate to other naturally occurring materials (e.g. cellulose in plants). Disintegration is important – the resulting particles must be very small. They must also leave no toxic residue. The compost must not contain heavy metals or other toxins, and be useful as organic fertilizer.
Regulations and Standards
All our biodegradable products conform to European standard EN13432. This is the most stringent of all the standards requiring 90% biodegradation within 90 days and requires the product to be within the allowable levels of toxins.
Not only can switching to biodegradable packaging help to distinguish your product, it can also increase brand recognition and build loyalty with the increasing number of environmentally aware consumers.
Many consumers feel increasingly guilty when buying items wrapped in excessive oil-based plastic packaging, as they know it will end up in landfill. In today’s competitive environment, your business success may depend on your products’ ability to stand out from the competition and the loyalty of your customers.
Green Man customers often use this opportunity to re-design their packaging or label designs to include the statement “100% Biodegradable Packaging”. The introduction of biodegradable packaging across your product range is also a great PR opportunity and demonstrates to customers that your brand is committed to a more sustainable environment.
An increasing number of forward-thinking business owners are turning to biodegradable packaging as an environmentally responsible alternative to conventional plastic. Leading technology giant Apple recently made the decision to supply all it’s new iPhones in 100% biodegradable packaging.
Investing in the right materials can be even more important for frequent shippers and businesses that deal with larger volume. By eliminating the additional waste conventional materials may cause, greater environmental benefit may be found. Assessing the available options may prove an important first step.
With plenty of different options to choose from, finding one that will better fit your needs can seem overwhelming. Learning more about the various alternative that are available can allow you to make a more effective selection. Researching next generation materials can make a considerable difference.
Why use biodegradable packaging when plastic is so easy to recycle?
We were recently asked this question. While it is excellent to see more and more types of plastic being recycled, there are two important reasons why biodegradable is better to use. Firstly, compostable packaging is made from renewable plant material, and secondly, it returns to its natural elements in composting environments.
Most food packaging is plastic or has plastic in it. According to this article, http://treevolution.co.za/guide-to-recycling-in-sa/ only 17% of plastic gets recycled. Some ends up in landfills where it stays for generations and the rest pollutes our environment and our seas. We see devastating consequences of the effect of this in the 5 gyres – huge patches of plastic waste the size of texas in the ocean and the many cases of wildlife ingesting plastic and getting entangled in it. Seehttp://www.plasticoceans.net/the-facts/environmental-impact/ for a list of the many different ways it impacts the environment.
A reason why we don’t see more plastic collected and ”recycled” is that ”recycled” plastic does not have as high an end use value as metal and glass so it ends up being not as commercially viable to “recycle”. In fact, plastic is mostly downcycled. For example, a plastic bottle will rarely be a plastic bottle again, it will end up as something else of a lower value than what it originally was.
When it comes to deciding what packaging to use, we believe planning should be approached in the following way.
1. Avoid and reduce food packaging as much as possible
2. Find reusable packaging options.
3. Use compostable, biodegradable packaging (and ensure it ends up in a compost facility)
4. Make sure it’s recyclable.
In South Africa we have good recycling centres, and in some areas it is even a service offered by the local municipality. But one big problem recyclers have is that they rarely accept food packaging that has been in contact with food unless it has been properly cleaned. This is termed “contaminated waste”.
This is manageable in home environments but in most cases where take away food is served, we are unable to clean out the packaging our food came in before we throw it away. It gets disposed of into bins destined for landfills, sometimes still containing leftover food. In these scenarios we recommend using biodegradable food packaging. We’re talking about fast food, shopping malls, and events where food is served, for example, school events, sports events, festivals, markets, concerts, canteens etc.
Furthermore, we encourage our customers to collect the packaging along with food waste in specially marked bins and to send it for composting. See a list of composting sites here: http://www.greenhome.co.za/composting/ This is our favourite best case scenario because the biodegradable packaging and the food won’t even end up in a landfill. It all gets sent off to a far more useful destiny; to become compost and feed some plants.
Online product information offers an easier way to discover new options. Even a small effort can provide many important educational opportunities to learn more about sustainable materials and resources that would better fit your needs. Electing to make use of the best resources can ensure that your research will be as successful as possible.
This topic is sponsored by the Australian Government’s National Innovation Awareness Strategy.
Biodegradable plastics made with plant-based materials have been available for many years. Their high cost, however, has meant they have never replaced traditional non-degradable plastics in the mass market. A new Australian venture is producing affordable biodegradable plastics that might change all that.
Our whole world seems to be wrapped in plastic. Almost every product we buy, most of the food we eat and many of the liquids we drink come encased in plastic. In Australia around 1 million tonnes of plastic materials are produced each year and a further 587,000 tonnes are imported. Packaging is the largest market for plastics, accounting for over a third of the consumption of raw plastic materials – Australians use 6 billion plastic bags every year!
Plastic packaging provides excellent protection for the product, it is cheap to manufacture and seems to last forever. Lasting forever, however, is proving to be a major environmental problem. Another problem is that traditional plastics are manufactured from non-renewable resources – oil, coal and natural gas.
Plastics that break down
In an effort to overcome these shortcomings, biochemical researchers and engineers have long been seeking to develop biodegradable plastics that are made from renewable resources, such as plants.
The term biodegradable means that a substance is able to be broken down into simpler substances by the activities of living organisms, and therefore is unlikely to persist in the environment. There are many different standards used to measure biodegradability, with each country having its own. The requirements range from 90 per cent to 60 per cent decomposition of the product within 60 to 180 days of being placed in a standard composting environment.
The reason traditional plastics are not biodegradable is because their long polymer molecules are too large and too tightly bonded together to be broken apart and assimilated by decomposer organisms. However, plastics based on natural plant polymers derived from wheat or corn starch have molecules that are readily attacked and broken down by microbes.
Plastics can be produced from starch
Starch is a natural polymer. It is a white, granular carbohydrate produced by plants during photosynthesisand it serves as the plant’s energy store. Cereal plants and tubers normally contain starch in large proportions. Starch can be processed directly into a bioplastic but, because it is soluble in water, articles made from starch will swell and deform when exposed to moisture, limiting its use. This problem can be overcome by modifying the starch into a different polymer. First, starch is harvested from corn, wheat or potatoes, then microorganisms transform it into lactic acid, a monomer. Finally, the lactic acid is chemically treated to cause the molecules of lactic acid to link up into long chains or polymers, which bond together to form a plastic called polylactide (PLA).
PLA can be used for products such as plant pots and disposable nappies. It has been commercially available since 1990, and certain blends have proved successful in medical implants, sutures and drug delivery systems because of their capacity to dissolve away over time. However, because PLA is significantly more expensive than conventional plastics it has failed to win widespread consumer acceptance.
Plastics can also be produced by bacteria
Another way of making biodegradable polymers involves getting bacteria to produce granules of a plastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) inside their cells. Bacteria are simply grown in culture, and the plastic is then harvested. Going one step further, scientists have taken genes from this kind of bacteria and stitched them into corn plants, which then manufacture the plastic in their own cells.
What’s the cost?
Unfortunately, as with PLA, PHA is significantly more expensive to produce and, as yet, it is not having any success in replacing the widespread use of traditional petrochemical plastics.
Indeed, biodegradable plastic products currently on the market are from 2 to 10 times more expensive than traditional plastics. But environmentalists argue that the cheaper price of traditional plastics does not reflect their true cost when their full impact is considered. For example, when we buy a plastic bag we don’t pay for its collection and waste disposal after we use it. If we added up these sorts of associated costs, traditional plastics would cost more and biodegradable plastics might be more competitive (Box 1: Life cycle analysis).
Biodegradable and affordable
If cost is a major barrier to the uptake of biodegradable plastics, then the solution lies in investigating low-cost options to produce them. In Australia, the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science is looking at ways of using basic starch, which is cheap to produce, in a variety of blends with other more expensive biodegradable polymers to produce a variety of flexible and rigid plastics. These are being made into ‘film’ and ‘injection moulded’ products such as plastic wrapping, shopping bags, bread bags, mulch films and plant pots.
Mulch film from biodegradable plastics
The CRC has developed a mulch film for farmers. Mulch films are laid over the ground around crops, to control weed growth and retain moisture. Normally, farmers use polyethylene black plastic that is pulled up after harvest and trucked away to a landfill (taking with it topsoil humus that sticks to it). However, field trials using the biodegradable mulch film on tomato and capsicum crops have shown it performs just as well as polyethylene film but can simply be ploughed into the ground after harvest. It’s easier, cheaper and it enriches the soil with carbon.
Pots you can plant
Another biodegradable plastic product is a plant pot produced by injection moulding. Gardeners and farmers can place potted plants directly into the ground, and forget them. The pots will break down to carbon dioxide and water, eliminating double handling and recycling of conventional plastic containers.
Different polymer blends for different products
Depending on the application, scientists can alter polymer mixtures to enhance the properties of the final product. For example, an almost pure starch product will dissolve upon contact with water and then biodegrade rapidly. By blending quantities of other biodegradable plastics into the starch, scientists can make a waterproof product that degrades within 4 weeks after it has been buried in the soil or composted.
Landfill sites aren’t compost heaps
To maximise the benefit of the new bioplastics we’ll have to modify the way we throw away our garbage – to simply substitute new plastics for old won’t be saving space in our landfills.
Although there is a popular misconception that biodegradable materials break down in landfill sites, they don’t. Rubbish deposited in landfill is compressed and sealed under tonnes of soil. This minimises oxygen and moisture, which are essential requirements for microbial decomposition. For biodegradable plastics to effectively decompose they need to be treated like compost.
Composting the packaging with its contents
Compost may be the key to maximising the real environmental benefit of biodegradable plastics. One of the big impediments to composting our organic waste is that it is so mixed up with non-degradable plastic packaging that it is uneconomic to separate them. Consequently, the entire mixed waste-stream ends up in landfill. Organic waste makes up almost half the components of landfill in Australia.
By ensuring that biodegradable plastics are used to package all our organic produce, it may well be possible in the near future to set up large-scale composting lines in which packaging and the material it contains can be composted as one. The resulting compost could be channelled into plant production, which in turn might be redirected into growing the starch to produce more biodegradable plastics.
An Olympic effort – recycling 76 per cent of waste
For anyone who thinks such schemes aren’t feasible, you only have to look at the recycling success of the Sydney Olympics to see that where there’s a will, there’s a way. More than 660 tonnes of waste was generated each day at its many venues. Of this, an impressive 76 per cent was collected and recycled. Part of this success was due to the use of biodegradable plastics used in the packaging of fast food, making the composting of food scraps an economic proposition as it eliminated the need for expensive separation of packaging waste prior to processing.
With intelligent use, these new plastics have the potential to reduce plastic litter, decrease the quantities of plastic waste going into landfills and increase the recycling of other organic components that would normally end up in landfills.
Choosing to make use of biodegradable packaging can provide a range of environmental benefits. Learning what you can about such resources should allow you to seek out the best options and alternatives. Sustainable shipping can prove to be a very beneficial undertaking for frequent shippers and businesses that may have concerns about the environmental impact of their shipping practices.