As a plastic packaging manufacturer, sustainability is always on our mind and we are diligent in our efforts to recycle, reduce and reuse. We also offer many eco-friendly packaging options, and you might believe that biodegradable food packaging is your best option, but it might be less beneficial that you think.

1. There Are Many Biodegradable Materials
To be honest, under the right conditions, just about anything is biodegradable. It simply takes a very long time for many materials to breakdown. For instance, it can take more than 10 years for a cigarette filter to biodegrade and, according to the National Institutes of Health, cigarette butts are the most common type of litter on the planet.

When it comes to food packaging, many of the materials that are used also take many years to break down, which is why companies are looking to find the most sustainable options possible. Biodegradable plastics are meant to take break down in less than a year, and while this seems like a huge benefit, there’s a bit more to the picture.

2. Biodegradable=Earth-Friendly Or Does It?
When you hear the word “biodegradable food packaging,” you might naturally assume that this is an eco-friendly option that will simply break down in a landfill in a few months.

The truth is a bit hazier. The conditions at most landfills are not conducive to biodegradation. For instance, in a typical landfill all of the trash and waste is so compacted that biodegradation cannot occur. In order for materials to biodegrade quickly, oxygen must be present, but most landfills simply don’t have the amount of oxygen needed to accelerate biodegradation.

Sometimes you will see plastics and other materials labeled as compostable. Compostable plastic can be a good option to consider, provided that consumers understand that these plastics need to be placed in a compost bin. Consumers often mistakenly toss these into the recycling bin or the regular waste bin. These must be sent to composting facility in order for them to break down and some will even break down right in your backyard.

Keep in mind, if a material is labeled as biodegradable, this does not mean it is compostable. In fact, many biodegradable plastics are absolutely not compostable and cannot be placed in a composting facility. The must be sent to a facility with conditions in place to encourage proper biodegradation.

3. Recyclable Materials & Bio-Based Plastics Are A Solid Option
These days, many cities are doing all they can to encourage recycling. We see bins in parks and public areas marked Recycle, Compost and Landfill, and this is a step in the right direction. Not only does it provide better options, it encourages consumers to think about their packaging and where it ends up.

Of course, most cities in the United States also offer some type of curbside recycling program, making it as easy as possible for people to recycle. While just about any type of thermoform plastic can be recycled, the two most common types of plastics that can be recycled are polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Both of these materials are highly recyclable and approved for food contact by the FDA, so we definitely can consider these materials as we design you food packaging.

Starch-based bioplastics are another option to consider when searching for sustainable packaging choices. These plastics are made using plant starch, often corn starch, and the main advantage of this material is that it comes from a natural, renewable source. Bioplastics also can be recycled, but they aren’t necessarily compostable. Only plastics marked as compostable should be placed in compost bins.

4. Plastics Have Advantages Over Other Materials
While there are certainly some compelling arguments against the use of plastics, it’s important to note that there are excellent and compelling reasons to use plastic materials for your food packaging.

One of the greatest advantages that plastic materials provide relates to food safety. Plastics are water-resistant and chemical-resistant, which means that these substances cannot penetrate through the packaging and contaminate your product.

Obviously, the same cannot be said for paper, which must be treated with wax or resin to make them resistant to water and substances such as oils. Glass and aluminum provide good barriers for food products, but they are heavy and expensive materials, so it’s often not practical to use these materials. Additionally, glass is easily broken and plastic provides high impact resistance, which is another huge advantage of plastics.

Additionally, with modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) options, we can preserve food longer than ever before, which greatly reduces food waste. With MAP, nitrogen and carbon dioxide are used to keep oxygen away from your food products, and this greatly reduces spoilage as well as color changes that, while perhaps not unsafe, might keep consumers from selecting your product.

5. Companies Can Encourage Sustainability
Not only can you select options such as biodegradable food packaging, bioplastic packaging, recyclable packaging or compostable packaging, there are other ways you can push for a more eco-friendly world, including:

• Ensure your packaging states that it is recyclable or compostable. When it’s clear to consumers that a package can be recycled, they are more likely to toss it in the recycling bin.

• If you used bioplastics or compostable materials, advertise that fact, it can encourage eco-minded consumers to choose your product.

• Set up recycling bins throughout your company to make it easy for your employees to recycle. Often, these initiatives will encourage employees to increase their recycling efforts at home.

• Reduce the amount of paper you use. Encourage employees to refrain from printing out emails unless absolutely necessary. Send emails or post up one or two copies of a memo instead of printing one for each employee.

• Sponsor a local school or youth organization’s recycling drive. Not only does this earn money for the school or organization, it also encourages the younger generations to recycle and on becoming more eco-friendly.

If you are searching for a provider for biodegradable food packaging or eco-friendly food packaging, give the team at Indepak a call. We’ve been creating packaging for the specialty foods industry for more than 50 years and can provide you with many sustainable options.