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Which is the Most Eco Friendly Packaging Material?

Environmental issues are on everyone’s minds these days and increasingly companies are looking to reduce their environmental impact and to do their part to “green” their operations. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 23% or materials landfilled in the U.S. comprise of containers and packaging.

Many companies are getting on board the “eco packaging train” realizing that not only does it make “cents”, but by utilizing this type of packaging, they are causing the least possible damage and impact on the environment. Reusable, recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials are all excellent alternatives to traditionally available types such as plastics.

Bamboo based packaging material

Bamboo is a valuable renewable resource that provides an excellent alternative to the usual oil-based food packaging. It is one of the world’s most rapidly growing plants (growing 24-36” every twenty-four hours), and is in plentiful supply. Bamboo is sustainable and pesticides and chemicals are not necessary for its cultivation and growth. It decomposes naturally without the release of any pollutants. Interestingly bamboo also has anti-microbial properties making it naturally resistant to mold and mildew, especially in moisture-rich environments. Ecoware, Bambu and Bio&Chic are companies that have taken advantage of bamboo’s strength and availability to manufacture a wide range of tableware items including bowls, plates, food boxes and lids. Bamboo tableware products are heavy duty and strong. They are very versatile and can be used in the microwave, freezer and oven (up to 220oC).

Corn starch based packaging

As companies become more aware of the environmentally detrimental effects of polystyrene, eco-friendly alternative packaging materials are increasingly being utilized instead. Polystyrene does not biodegrade and has to be disposed of in landfills. The fact that it is a lightweight material also makes it largely uneconomical to recycle and one of the most common type of litter seen on the nation’s beaches. A new material has been developed using polylactic acid (PLA) made from fermented sugars, most frequently from corn starch. Since corn is low-cost, renewable and economic to produce, its use for packaging materials is a win-win environmentally and for companies. Its manufacture and use causes far fewer negative environmental consequences than traditional petroleum-based plastics. Plastics do not biodegrade, and as has been widely publicized, plastic pollution is a huge problem world-wide. Bio compostable plastics made from sustainable, biodegradable source materials like corn are becoming an increasingly popular environmentally-conscious purchasing choice. If you are looking for corn starch based packaging, with All in Packaging you can get the best one for your product.

Packaging made from Bagasse

Bagasse is sugarcane waste fiber that is left over after the sugarcane has been juiced. This fibrous waste can be used to manufacture containers that have all the same properties that make polystyrene so popular, without any of the environmental impacts. Bagasse is also used as a source of pulp for paper and its fibers can be used to make a variety of paper products from plates to toilet paper! It provides an eco-conscious alternative to the usual wood pulp, and the fact that it is plant-based means that it is easily compostable. Bagasse packaging materials can withstand a wide temperature range for use in the freezer and the microwave and are sturdy and durable. Food service products including cutlery, cups, plates and straws are now being manufactured utilizing bagasse as a raw material. Bagasse packaging and food service products biodegrade within 90 days or faster depending on environmental conditions. Companies like disposables.bio sell a wide variety of bagasse-based food service products.

Sugar Cane

A bio-based polymer created from residual waste sugar cane (left over from sugar cane extraction) can be used to manufacture a diverse selection of products including bags, films, wraps, tubes and covers. While sugar cane is growing, carbon is actively captured through photosynthesis resulting in the polymer being carbon-negative at first. This captured carbon is about the same quantity as the amount of carbon consumed during the use of oil-based polymers so there are huge environmental benefits associated with its use. Sugar cane polymers are a renewable resource as opposed to oil-based polymers and have a significantly reduced environmental impact. Unfortunately the higher cost of sugar cane polymer can be a significant deterrent to companies focused on their bottom line and it’s very difficult to justify the extra expense even if it’s clear that it has a much smaller environmental impact than an oil-based alternative. Companies like RPC M&H Plastics have overcome this obstacle and offer sustainable packaging solutions including products made with sugarcane.

Paper Packaging

Paper based packaging is yet another multipurpose and eco-friendly packaging option that effectively protects items during transportation, storage and distribution. It cuts down on waste, is recyclable and can be made into a variety of shapes and sizes to fit multiple applications and needs.

Examples include products made from:

Containerboard (e.g. cardboard boxes)

Paperboard (e.g. cereal boxes)

Paper bags

Shipping sacks (used for bulk shipping of materials like cement and animal feed).

Paper-based packaging is robust and relatively lightweight and is a cost-effective way to package and protect items. To learn more about paper-based packaging and products available, visit the American Forest & Paper Association. According to the Food Packaging Forum, recycled paper and board sometimes contain contaminants that can pass through the packaging into the foods resulting in unsafe levels. In 2011, most food companies changed from utilizing recycled paper and board to materials only made from virgin fibers.

As you can see, the world of eco-friendly packaging offers many excellent, cost effective, renewable and environmentally conscious options. Alternatives like bamboo, corn, sugar and paper are all materials that can be used to manufacture products that would otherwise be made from environmentally harmful, oil-based and wood-pulp based materials. There is no one, single type of packaging or custom shipping boxes that works for everyone and in every situation. Businesses and companies will have to weigh a number of different factors to figure out which of the eco-friendly packaging options will be the best fit for them. As the extent of our environmental peril becomes more apparent, we will be called upon to do whatever we can, as much as we can, to help decrease negative environmental impact to our world. Utilizing environmentally friendly packaging products is one strong step in the right direction.