Once hailed as a revolutionary material, plastic has evolved into a global environmental concern. Its non-biodegradable nature and extensive use in packaging have led to significant pollution and ecological damage. Around 36% of plastic production is for packaging, including single-use items like food containers—85% of which end up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
Fortunately, plant-based packaging materials provide a promising solution amidst the pressing need for sustainability. With their biodegradability, reduced carbon footprint, and renewable nature, these materials are becoming a favorite for many businesses dedicated to sustainable practices.
If you want to swap out your plastic packaging to achieve your sustainability goals, read below to know more about plant-based alternatives and which ones you can use for your products.
What is Plant-Based Packaging?
Plant-based packaging refers to materials derived from renewable sources, such as corn, sugarcane, or other starch-rich plants. They can also come in various forms, including bioplastics, molded pulp, or packaging made from plant fibers like bamboo or bagasse (sugarcane waste). But more importantly, they are alternatives to traditional fossil-fuel-made packaging materials, like plastic.
The materials used for plant-based packaging are typically biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable, offering numerous environmental benefits compared to conventional packaging. With this, companies can reduce their reliance on non-renewable resources and minimize waste. Overall, these materials can promote sustainability in the packaging industry.
5 Advantages of Plant-Based Packaging
The benefits of plant-based packaging can do wonders for the earth and your organization in many ways.
- Renewable resources
Plant-based packaging materials come from renewable resources such as crops or trees. Unlike fossil fuels used to produce traditional plastics, plants can be grown and replenished, making them a more sustainable choice.
- Reduced carbon footprint
Plant-based materials have a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional plastics. Since plants absorb carbon dioxide during their growth, they can help offset emissions. Moreover, they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in production, helping your company reach net zero.
- Consumer appeal
Consumers of today have become increasingly aware of the environmental crisis the world is experiencing. As such, they now seek sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Choosing plant-based packaging demonstrates a commitment to eco-consciousness, which can enhance brand reputation and attract environmentally conscious consumers.
- Biodegradability and compostability
Many plant-based packaging materials are biodegradable or compostable. They can break down naturally in the environment, reducing waste accumulation and preventing long-lasting pollution from single-use plastic packaging.
- Circular economy
Plant-based packaging materials are often compatible with circular economy principles. They can be recycled, composted, or used in bio-based material production. In effect, they can contribute to a more closed-loop system where individuals and businesses minimize waste and efficiently utilize resources.
Applications of Plant-Based Sustainable Packaging
As the demand for environmentally friendly packaging grows, innovative solutions emerge, enabling more industries to adopt sustainable practices.
- Food packaging
Food manufacturers and establishments can use plant-based materials for trays, containers, wraps, and films. They also help maintain food freshness while providing barrier properties. On top of this, plant-based packaging can be compostable or biodegradable after use.
- Personal care and cosmetics
Retail companies can use plant-based packaging for personal care and cosmetic products, such as bottles, tubes, jars, and pumps. It aligns with the natural and organic branding of these products.
- E-commerce packaging
The number of conscious consumers shopping online continues to increase. In that regard, e-commerce brands can leverage plant-based packaging to exhibit their commitment to a sustainable future and attract this group of consumers. Compostable mailers, cushioning materials, and void-fill packaging provide an eco-friendly option for shipping goods safely.
- Agriculture and horticulture
Agricultural and horticultural sectors can use plant-based packaging for products like seedling trays, plant pots, mulch films, and fertilizer containers. These materials can be compostable or biodegradable, reducing waste in the industry.
- Pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging
Plant-based materials can also be excellent packaging for medicine, medical devices, and products. With this, companies can meet regulatory requirements while reducing environmental impact.
7 Types of Plant-Based Packaging
There are several plant-based packaging types for you to choose from, and understanding the features of each one can help you adopt these materials for your business effectively.
Typically, bioplastics come from various renewable sources, such as starches, sugars, or plant oils. They offer versatility in properties and applications, ranging from rigid to flexible packaging, ensuring that your products are safe no matter what they are. You can use them in food packaging, beverage bottles, personal care products, and more.
Cellulose-based packaging materials come from plant fibers, typically from wood pulp or agricultural waste. These materials are processed into films, coatings, or molded products. They also offer good barrier properties that are perfect for protecting food and other perishable items.
- Mushroom mycelium
Mycelium, the mushroom’s root structure, is grown on agricultural waste or leftovers to create mycelium foam or mycelium-based packaging. The mycelium forms a network that binds the waste materials together and makes a durable and lightweight packaging material.
Mushroom mycelium packaging is biodegradable and compostable. In other words, they can protect the earth while providing protective cushioning for fragile items.
- Sugarcane bagasse
Bagasse is residue from crushed sugarcane stalks and has multiple sustainable uses. For example, you can use this material as biofuel for energy production. It’s also an excellent material to turn into pulp for paper, cardboard, and biodegradable plastics.
In food service packaging, you can use this material to substitute traditional materials like paper, plastic, and styrofoam. Other uses can include plates, bowls, containers, and trays.
Seaweed-based packaging materials come from marine algae. It offers excellent barrier properties, such as moisture resistance and gas permeability. You can form it into films or coatings for food packaging applications, ensuring they stay fresh and eco-friendly.
This packaging material has a low environmental impact as it does not require fresh water or land resources for cultivation.
- Coconut husk
You can process coconut husk or coir into fibers for packaging applications. Coir-based packaging is lightweight, durable, and has good shock-absorbing properties. As such, the most common application for this sustainable material is for protecting fragile items during shipping.
You can also see them often used in mattresses, floor tiles, trunk liners, and electric car battery pack covers. With its abundant lignin, you can combine coconut husks with finely ground wood and other natural fibers to create plastic granulates.
- Shrimp shells
Chitosan is a biopolymer derived from the shells of crustaceans such as shrimp. Packaging made with this material is also an excellent sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, offering antimicrobial properties. That said, you can turn it into films or coatings to safely cover your food and extend its shelf life.
Make the Switch Today
The transition from plastic to plant-based packaging materials marks a significant step towards a greener and more responsible future. The diverse options offer environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional plastic packaging.
When you opt for plant-based materials, you can reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and lower your carbon footprint. In effect, you can contribute to the goal of preserving the planet for future generations to come.