Bioplastics in the packaging industry
Bioplastics still only constitute 1% of all plastic production in the world. The number one application and the biggest market segment within the bioplastics industry is in the packaging industry with more than 53%, with flexible packaging leading over the rigid one (1). And there is a rising demand for packaging made from bioplastics to be used for wrapping food as well as for premium and branded products with particular requirements (2).
Flexible packaging refers to films and trays that are mostly sought to maintain perishable foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, as the bioplastics can add to the shelf-life of these food products.
Currently, the research and development in flexible packaging is focusing on improving the barrier properties like antimicrobial coating. After adding these properties, the bioplastics industry will be able to achieve better preservation of perishables than traditional packaging.
Rigid packaging bioplastic applications are used in the cosmetics industry for packaging in diverse creams, lipsticks, and other beauty products, and drinking bottles. PLA, bio-PE, or bio-PET are mostly used in these industries. They’re bio-based with no harmful chemicals. Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson use packaging based on bio-PE for different kinds of cosmetic products. Famous brands like Coca-Cola, Vittel, or Volvic use bio-PET for their beverage bottles. (2)
Global foodservice packaging is growing with the rising demand for cutlery, cups, plates, or carrier bags used everywhere from massive events, festivals, to trains, planes, and even at private parties. The good news is that the whole range of products can be easily made of bioplastics. The biodegradability of these products enables them to be composted along with the food waste they are thrown away with.
Innovative application example
As the packaging industry is in constant development, we have observed many interesting projects during the last years or decades. The one we want to mention here is a bottle made of bioplastic produced from algae. In 2016, product design student Ari Jónsson used an agar powder made from red seaweed and water to create a completely biodegradable water bottle and he exhibited his prototype on the Reykjavik design festival (3). This bottle keeps its shape as long as it is filled with water, once the water is emptied, the bottle starts to degrade immediately.
The new eco-conscious consumers drive the demand for biobased plastics in food packaging with their societal and environmental needs. About 80 percent of European consumers want to buy products with a minimal impact on the environment (4).
They feel better when they purchase products that are better for their health and the environment, and that is why we can expect growth in the industry soon. The adoption in the industry is lead by smaller brands, as they have more flexibility to adapt fast to consumers´ behavior. Bigger brands must invest in infrastructure change and it can take time, but many of them have already started to implement bioplastics to answer the demand.