There are several sustainable packaging materials that can replace plastic in a number of applications. Here are some resources I've pulled together to help you learn about the alternatives out there. Several options are currently available only from overseas manufacturers and high quantities, but manufacturing will soon be available in the US.
Not all bioplastics and fiber/fiber-composites can be used under all circumstances. For example, PLA is brittle in frozen settings and some fibers don't hold up in frozen setting either due to their lack of moisture resistance. Some, though may be ideal for other applications and these materials are constantly being improved for commercial packaging uses.
- Polylactide Acid (PLA) Plastics
- Bagasse (Sugar Cane Pulp)
- Palm Fiber
- Biomass Fiber Composite - AgroResin
- Reed Fiber - a Japanese Innovation
- PlasTerra - Biodegradable Plastic
(full article with images below...)
Polylactide Acid (PLA) Plastics
PLA is a transparent plastic made from natural resources (like
cornstarch). It can be processed as easily as petroleum-based plastics,
and can run on the same equipment. This makes it a very attainable
choice for those companies looking to change plastic components, like
thermoformed trays, to something more environmentally friendly. The
drawback is that it looks like ordinary plastic and if mixed with
recyclables, it can cause contamination, rendering the recyclable
plastic unusable. It can also be brittle at low temperatures, like
Bagasse (Sugar Cane Pulp)
Bagasse is a fibrous material
with a natural ivory color. When sugar cane is crushed to extract its
juice, what remains is bagasse. Bagasse is used to make insulated
disposable food containers, replacing materials such as Styrofoam.
You can learn more about bagasse on Wikipedia. Bagasse suppliers are primarily in Thailand and Malaysia.
Palm fiber is the leftover material
after the palm fruit is harvested for oil. This material is similar to
bagasse in that they're both used primarily to make packaging like
Earthcycle is a maker of FDA approved palm fiber trays. Visit their website to learn more.
Biomass Fiber Composite - AgroResin
AgroResin is a renewable and compostable material made from
agricultural biomass. It has a natural appearance, similar to palm
AgroResin® is made by PWP Industries (image shown above). This is another interesting alternative to petroleum-based plastic trays.
Reed Fiber - a Japanese Innovation
Reeds grow quickly.
They can be composted and return to a crop-soil-cycle. Also, grown on
the shore or riverbanks, reed doesn't compete for acreage with food
crops - as do plants grown for biodiesel. This material is from Japan
and is made from 100% reed fiber.
Made by Japanese manufacturer, Masuki (website in Japanese).
PlasTerra - Biodegradable Plastic
PlasTerra™ is a biodegradable and compostable plastic made using a blend of various
commercially available bioresins. Includes starch, PLA, and other fillers.
PlasTerra may be offered by your usual plastic thermoformer (disposable trays). Plastic thermoforming companies like TrayPak, recommended this as a possible alternative to PLA, which can be brittle in frozen use settings.
This area of sustainable packaging is continually evolving. As more
options become available, we will be letting our readers know on
theDieline. (Let me know if you have any questions or feedback - we'd
love to help if we can.)