Bioplastics in the Food packaging industry
The most frequent use for bioplastics is the packaging market that amounts to more than 50% of all applications. The bioplastics packaging market is expected to register an important growth of almost 15% in the period of 2020-2025 (1).
Some countries, like Japan, are starting to promote laws that support the use of bioplastics in packaging to fight plastic waste polluting our oceans and nature. More and more countries are banning single-use plastic packaging, starting with plastic bags, but moving toward banning any kind of single-use plastic.
In European Union, more than 50% of goods are packaged in plastic that impacts negatively the environment, so the European government is coming up with increasingly more initiatives to incentivize the use of bioplastics for the region. and is the first one to have ordered a complete ban on single-use plastics by 2021.
The biggest driver in the packaging industry is food packaging prompted by the consumer demand for greener and healthier choices. New options for biodegradable, bioplastic packaging like cutlery, crockery, storage utensils, serving bowls are popping up everywhere in the world. As the demand is growing fast, the bioplastic food packaging options are not only functional but also stylish and visually appealing.
In May 2019, Lithuanian scientists from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) created a biodegradable bioplastic that will decompose with the help of microorganisms in a traditional home compost bin in 2 years. In an industrial composting facility, this process is helped by various techniques (high heat), and it would take much shorter, around six months. Their bioplastic is transparent, and all its ingredients are safe for contact with food. It is mainly made of cellulose, which was a challenge because the cellulose needed to be heated and converted into fluid without burning. (2)
In November 2019, Novamont, the current leader in bioplastic production, announced a huge investment into a production plant in Terni (Italy). The funds will be used to increase the production of one of their flagship products MATER-BI (biodegradable and compostable bioplastics) along with a series of products with oxygen and carbon dioxide barrier properties for the food packaging sector. The company continues to lead the innovations in the bioplastics sector with new proprietary technologies. This investment was backed by Invitalia, an Italian agency under the Ministry of the Economy.
Some of the newest innovations in the food packaging industry are bioplastic products made of seaweed, which will bring higher durability and heat resistance. Companies like Petro Sun, Dow Chemicals, Cereplast are investing in research and development of algae-based bioplastics. And recent research is focusing on the antimicrobial coating on bioplastics that could enhance the food preservation soon (3).
Even big consumer-facing players in food industries like Starbucks are getting their feet wet by introducing more eco-friendly options to their conventional ways. Starbucks announced they would phase out plastic straws completely by the end of 2020. And they will be looking into introducing better options to replace what they are using currently.
The shift towards sustainability has been a significant milestone for the food and beverage industry. And it is indeed one of the most innovative industries in the bioplastic market.