Biodegradable Plastics Poised for Growth in 2019

If 2018 was the year for cracking down on single-use plastics, then 2019 will be about filling that void with alternative materials and a better carbon footprint. Enter: biodegradable plastics.

Of course, biodegradable plastics aren’t new—one reason the plastics industry didn’t panic when straws, cutlery, and packaging became the focus on bans across a variety of industries and municipalities. But research and development have been costly and time-consuming, and the resulting products have undergone many iterations in the quest for resin-based products that will break down safely as intended, but not before doing their job. In the case of sustainable packaging, biodegradable materials have to keep contents (especially food) safe and fresh, and may even continue to contain the product for some time after purchase (such as in a pantry or refrigerator). So it must be durable, but not so hardy that it can only be composted commercially. It needs to breakdown in someone’s home compost just as reliably.

Last year saw a number of improvements, with much promise surrounding the material polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). 2019 is poised to be a year of growth for this biodegradable plastic.

Dr. Jenna Jambeck (University of Georgia) and a research team discovered last spring that PHA biodegrades in anaerobic conditions similarly to cellulose powder and yields methane emissions similar to food waste. In seawater, PHA biodegrades in about 6 months (compared to petrochemical plastic which does not break down). Meeting the necessary criteria of soil and ocean biodegradability, PHA is on its way to becoming a viable eco-conscious solution.

Biodegradable plastics like PHA are particularly beneficial with the tremendous growth in flexible packaging. As demand continues to explode for this type of packaging, further improvements in biodegradable technology are highly welcome. Flexible packaging is already a more sustainable option than many traditional packaging types, but biodegradability takes its value to another level. The fastest growing sector of flexible packaging is stand-up pouches, with the food and beverage industry accounting for the most dollars. Biodegradable packaging is an outstanding brand match for companies that have made sustainability/responsibility a selling point.

Biodegradable plastics are predicted to grow at a rate approaching 20% over the next 7-8 years. That’s a bright future for a product that can not only meet the packaging needs of numerous companies across a number of industries, but that will also have a much more positive impact on the environment and reduce the ocean and landfill pollution made up of petrochemical plastics that persist—unchanged—for generations.

Are biodegradable/compostable plastics the solution you’ve been looking for in flexible packaging to expand your sustainability? Give us a call or contact us to get started!

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