Biodegradable Food Packaging

The environmental movement has been very successful in educating the general public about the consequences of indiscriminate and uncaring attitudes in the past towards our Earth by the human race in general. As individual consumers, most of us have developed a conscience about the waste produced by our lifestyle, and are working as a community to minimise its effects. We now realise that our waste ends up in landfill, or worse still, in our rivers and oceans, and depending on its make-up, can remain in its original state for hundreds of years. This has prompted the development of products that will break down quickly to minimise the effect on the environment.

Biodegradable is the name given to products that break down after disposal. These are substances or objects that can be decomposed by air, water, bacteria or other living organisms. Depending on what the product is made of, the time it takes to degrade can range from weeks for paper to 100 years for tin cans, so scientists have been working to develop products that will break down much more quickly.

Food packaging suppliers have been quick to recognise increased consumer awareness of the benefits of biodegradable products. Food packaging is a major contributor to land fill, and any advances that can be made to either reduce the volume of packaging waste or accelerate the rate that it biodegrades will be appreciated by consumers. Where consumers have a choice between biodegradable food packaging and older-style products like polystyrene, they have consistently shown that they prefer the environmentally responsible option.

The raw materials used to make biodegradable food packaging are quite varied and include thick paperboard used in food pails, sugarcane fibre fashioned into bowls and plates, and cutlery made from cornstarch. PLA, for example, is a material derived from plant sugars from field corn that is currently being used to make biodegradable products. The scientists working with it believe that in the future any available plant sugar, not just field corn, will produce the same result, depending on the geographical area where production is taking place.

There is no doubt that manufacturers of food packaging will respond to consumer demand for biodegradable products provided the material is readily available, cost effective and most importantly of all, maintains the integrity of the food product. If there should be contamination of the product as a result of failure of the packaging, it would be a setback in the acceptance of biodegradable food packaging.

This would be a great shame, as the impetus towards environmentally responsible packaging has been building for a number of years, and consumers are willing to use it. It will usher in a new era that hopefully will see our Earth handed over to the next generation in much better condition that it currently is.