As the economies are prospering, as consumerism is prospering people are consuming more and more. More food more drinks more clothes, and that more packaging material. Often these materials are dumped without the concern where they will end up. They end up in dumping grounds.
There was a time when reducing the cost of packaging was the main focus of companies. Then came a phase when companies started experimenting with packaging with forms, shapes, durability, flexibility … keeping the cost low. Packaging raw materials derived from petroleum became the best choice for these packaging innovations.
Then companies, Governments, and consumers at large realized what cost the world is bearing because of these cheap packaging. Stockpiles of packaging waste are taking the shape of small mountains, clogging our rivers, and even combusting is not the solution as that is polluting our air.
Then started the recycle and reuse movement!! China became the recycling hub of packaging materials. The south east Asian countries also pitched in. But then China stopped importing packaging waste, and SE Asia followed suit. Countries had to re-strategize waste management.
Then everyone realized that the only solution can be provided by mother earth. If she assimilates our waste in herself then only this problem can be solved. And thus started the search for perfect packaging material … the one that biodegrades or in other words micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, or algae can completely disintegrate the material in a relatively short time.
But the definition of bio degradable is incomplete without understating the biodegradability of the materials. This article consists a list of seven packaging materials that are bio degradable.
The European Standard EN 13432:2000 – specifies the bio-degradability criteria of material as:
∙ Within 12 weeks more than 90% of the material needs to be disintegrated into fragments smaller than 2 mm., only 10% of fragments can be bigger than 2mm.
∙ Within 6 months the material must generate a minimum 90 % CO2 generated from the control material
∙ The composting process must not have any negative implication.
∙ Minimal heavy metals
∙ Composted material must not effect of the compost’s bulk density
The following are some of the materials that are currently being used or being developed to replace packaging materials generated from petroleum. These materials are ensuring the biodegradability of packaging materials which is an eco-friendly solution for our urban waste management.
1. Paper & Cardboard boxes
Paper and cardboard boxes are two extensively used biodegradable materials used in packaging. Be it primary packaging or secondary packaging Paper plays a major role. But we always need to remember how the raw materials of paper or cardboard boxes are sourced to determine whether that is environmentally sustainable or not.
Paper and cardboard boxes’ raw materials sourced sustainably maintained forest is an eco-friendly choice.
Paper and cardboard boxes can easily be recycled. Using post-consumer usage or post-industrial usage of recycled paper or recycled cardboard boxes for packaging is highly eco-friendly choice.
Thus while choosing paper or cardboard boxes we must always check whether they are FSC certified or not to be 100% sure. Otherwise, it can have equally bad or worse consequences on our environment and ecology.
2. Coir and natural latex
Coir fibers derived from Coconut and natural latex are biodegradable, renewable, compostable, and eco-friendly packaging material. A composite mouldable material created with a 60:40 combination of coir fibers and natural latex can be used to create complex shapes for packaging materials. This is also a very cheap option. The cost of packaging is a major factor in sustainable business practices. It’s one of packaging materials that are bio degradable.
3. Corn Starch
Derived from Maize, Corn starch has become the main eco-friendly biodegradable organic material for packaging. Corn starch has properties similar to plastic. And thus fast replacing plastic in a range of packaging materials, mainly for bottles. But there is a sustainability question attached to this alternative. This may elevate the prices of corn in certain countries which depend on the same for their food supply. Thus countries are taking cautious steps towards this alternative.
4. Biodegradable Polyethylene
Nowadays special biodegradable polyethylene can be made with additives. These additives ensure polyethylene is quickly broken down into biomass, carbon dioxide, water, and minerals once they are dumped in landfills. This seems to be a brighter future as Polyethylene constitutes a lion’s share in the packaging material industry.
5. Polylactic Acid (PLA)
Poly Lactic Acid or PLA is a biodegradable plastic, currently being experimented for packaging materials. PLA is derived through the fermentation of natural starch. But still, PLA in its current form cannot be used for many packaging applications. It is very brittle, softens in a small rise in temperature, and has a low vapor and gas barrier. There are many scientific experiments going on to improve its properties so that this biodegradable material can be widely used to replace packaging materials generated from petroleum products.
Mushroom is a cheap eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging alternative. Ground agricultural waste can be fused with the matrix of mycelium (mushroom roots), makes a very easily
mouldable packaging material. In this way packaging made off mushroom can replace non-bio-degradable packaging materials originated from petroleum. The biodegradation rate of this packaging is also high. This is fast becoming a replacement for plastic and polythene packaging. The mushroom packaging can be utilized in domestic gardening etc. also. This is completely non-toxic in nature.
7. Organic Fabric:
Bags made up of organic fabrics are eco-friendly biodegradable alternative plastic bags. Hemp, cotton, tapioca, palm leaves, jute used in organic or recycled form constitute a huge array of options. All these fabrics biodegrade within 100 days which nothing compared their petroleum generated counterparts which virtually never bio-degrade. Thus these bags and other packaging forms can be a much more sustainable alternative to plastic bags.
The world is moving towards a greener future. In this modern world, the economy cannot sustain without consumerism. More consumerism means more prosperity, more growth, more empty bottles, and more empty packets, more waste. This we cannot change. Thus the only solution is to recycle, reuse, and biodegrade the waste. This way we can achieve a greener future.