Exploring the benefits of starch based packaging
August 14, 2018
Synthetic and non-recyclable (or compostable) packaging used in preparing the vast majority of products for consumers are not sustainable. It’s no longer a secret by any means that discarded polymeric materials are threatening our environment, living conditions, and quality of life around the world.
Thankfully, the pressing need for an alternative drove scientists to develop PLA and other starch-based plastic alternatives that fully biodegrade within six months of being disposed of in a commercial composting facility.
The Decline of Nondegradable Packaging
Continuing to produce disposable packaging using synthetic, nondegradable materials is unsustainable. This truth is becoming impossible to ignore as the crisis of climate change and increasing animal deaths by discarded waste consumption flood our social media everyday.
Discarded plastic contaminates an incredible range of natural habitats, terrestrial to marine. Synthetic polymeric materials are responsible for much inadvertent soil contamination and plastics make up as much as 80 percent of shoreline debris.
The contents of plastics (i.e. phthalates, BPA, flame retardants, cadmium, lead and organo tins) have all, in multiple animal studies, been directly linked to obesity.
Lastly, vinyl chloride, a chemical used specifically in the manufacturing of standard PVC plastic, is a known carcinogen. Factory workers producing these materials are more likely to contract angiosarcoma of the liver.
The Starch Solution
Starch-based plastics, such as PLA, are environmentally sustainable alternatives to synthetic plastics and polymers. Their transparency, glossiness, stiffness, ease of printability and processability, and strong aroma barrier make these biodegradable plastics a competitive alternative to their synthetic counterparts. Starch-based plastics can be used to make almost any type of packaging from compartmentalized containers to flexible films.
Starch is a relatively abundant and also renewable resource. While the majority of starches in the world are found in corn, starch is also prominently present in wheat, rice, potatoes, tapioca, peas, as well as a variety of other botanical resources. All of these starches, once extracted, are viable ingredients in the production of starch-based plastics.
Exploring Other Biodegradable Alternatives
PLA starch based packaging isn’t a viable alternative for all synthetic packaging, but thanks to rising petroleum prices (allowing bioplastic manufacturers to have competitive pricing in the plastic market) and a growing universal sense of environmental responsibility, the demand for sustainable biodegradable plastics is increasing and pushing researchers to continue developing new biodegradable alternatives, such as algae, to nondegradable disposable products and packaging.