The ground-breaking science which may present the future for sustainable packaging

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock
©iStock

Related tags: Plastic, Recyclable materials, Packaging

With shoppers increasingly saying no to single-use plastic and the EU last year approving plans to ban single-use plastics by 2021, food companies are at the forefront of combatting single-use plastics and packaging wastes.

79% of the world’s plastic ends up in landfills​,” said Peter Rooke, CEO and founder of Art and Science International. This is especially alarming considering that it’s also estimated that food demand will rise 60% by 2050.

Despite everybody’s efforts on recycling and consumers being better educated and the existence of recycling companies, that’s a number that needs to come down​,” he told an audience at the Ingredients Show.

Biodegradable and fully recyclable plastic materials offer a solution

Companies are increasingly looking to replace plastic in their packaging as the surge towards sustainability continues, and the options for alternatives are rapidly increasing. Breakdown Plastic is one such alternative. Its products are made with an organic additive that is introduced to the injection mould process. Just a 1% shot of this organic additive accelerates the biodegradation process of plastic, rubber, or foam products in a biologically active landfill.

 “The development and use of Breakdown Plastic at least tackles one of the issues the end of the life of the product so if it does end up in the landfill it will actually bio-degrade, which it currently doesn’t. It will sit in the ground for 500 years and create toxic waste,​” said Rooke.

Neither does it need land for it to be produced so it’s both sustainable and biodegradable. It can be added to any plastic to ensure that it degrades when in an environment of no air or sunlight. It can be applied to pure plastic products and those other products, such as nappies, that contain some plastic. 

Breakdown Plastic is also looking to develop the technology so that it will be able to breakdown plastic in the ocean.

What about the costs, especially to small businesses?

The cost of entry is actually much lower than you would expect it to be​,” said Rooke. “You don’t need huge capital costs. All you need is one per cent of your mode of plastic to be break down plastic for this to be effective. So I don’t think cost is going to be a barrier.”

Podpak is one company putting this ground-breaking science in to action by producing eco-positive packaging for meal-box company Hello Fresh among others.

The company’s managing director Nick Earl said his company was eager to make the switch to a material that really can rectify a major environmental issue. For that the reason, the slight increase in cost makes it worth it. “It’s a very easy material to switch to,​” he said.

A ‘circular approach’ is needed

But biodegradable plastic is not the only solution, said Rooke. Carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, food waste all areas that must be tackled. “Breakdown plastic is not the total solution. A circular society, where we are all responsible for our manufacturing and the reuse of everything we produce is where we want to go.

“It’s a long, long road but this is the start of initiatives being taken which are very important for the future.”

He said government initiatives have started and will continue, but that governments still need to be lobbied to encourage more action to tackle to the use of single-use plastics.

“We’re also lobbying very hard in Asian markets where they have limited landfill and are using oceans instead.”

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