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The Advantages of Bioplastic Packaging

The packaging industry has continuously increased its demand for many years. Worldwide-changing events like the coronavirus pandemic caused this demand to grow as time progressed. Because of this, questioning involving the sustainability levels of current packaging processes also began to increase. Possible solutions to a portion of the questioning include examining other packaging choices and determining how advantageous they are compared to the usual packaging options. One of these possible choices includes bioplastic packaging. 

What is Packaging?

Packaging can be defined as the system or act of enclosing an item or product for transport, distribution, storage, retailing, identification, and usage purposes. This is done by an outer container used as a type of protectant for the product and can be made from varying materials. These types of material include—but are not limited to—paper, metal, glass, wood, plastic, or polymer. Each material has its benefits and is used for different purposes. Paper, made from many plants’ cellulose fiber, is used to create other products of the material like cylinder boards, Kraft paper, tissue paper, and label paper. A metal used for packaging, aluminum, is advantageous for its qualities like conductivity, lightweight, formability, and recyclability. Tin is another metal often used for packaging purposes. These are often used in containers for items like aerosol spray cans. Advantages of using glass for packaging include being inert to most chemicals, prevention of materials leaching out, impermeability, clarity, and rigidity. Lastly, plastic packaging is used for its strength and lightweight qualities, like aluminum metal. Typical plastic materials include but are not limited to the following: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyamides, and polystyrene. Although handy, plastic material packaging, unfortunately, accounts for a large portion of waste pollution, needing possible alternatives.

The History of Packaging

Packaging utilization like containing, preserving, and transporting dates back to the Stone Age, in which primitive packaging consisted of materials like leaf wrapping, animal skins, and hard-shelled fruits. Other notable events include the invention of glass blowpipes by the Romans back in 50 B.C. and the first actual paper being made in 105 A.D. by Ts’ai Lun in China from the bark of mulberry trees. The Industrial Revolution significantly switched gears for packaging and manufacturing in the latter half of the 1700s and the earlier half of the 1800s. Machinery usage and manufacturing began to happen on a much larger scale, calling for increased transportation of goods. Packaging used for this purpose included barrels, boxes, and bags. Because of the larger production of goods, the function of preserving was also sought after more in the packaging materials. Fast forwarding to the late twentieth century, different concepts started to be introduced concerning packaging. Some of these concepts were child-resistant and tamper-evident closures, labeling laws, and taking environmental elements into consideration more, which falls under sustainability. Nowadays, modern packaging is not only the material of the outer system.

Modern Packaging

Modern Packaging not only fulfills the functions of the package; it also adds marketing and branding elements as prioritizations. With these marketing elements, the Packaging of an item is often the product too. This fulfills the selling and informing function of a package. A package’s appearance aids the way consumers recognize and recall the product; it is the brand. Some of the first brand names to be recognized included Yardley’s from the late 1700s and Perrier and Colgate in the late 1800s. Graphic design elements like color, shape, texture, size, direction, line, and typography make up the appearance. Personas are also highly used to aid the popularization of a product and its Packaging. An example of a persona would be “Tony the Tiger” for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal or the Quaker character for Quaker Oats. Smart Packaging has increased as well within this new, modern era. Smart Packaging creates additional functions to the packages like time and temperature indicators. This could be highly used in processes like cold-chain Packaging to ensure proper transport. QR code usage has also been increasing; these can help spread information similarly to social media, which is one of the fastest ways to do promotions nowadays. For Packaging to work properly in modern society, it must be adaptive. This is because different cultures and countries will set other goals in the Packaging. For example, North America considers Packaging a “silent salesperson,” while places like Sub-Saharan Africa prioritize simple effectiveness in Packaging, regardless of “fancy” styles.

As years pass, the packaging industry will only continue to grow. However, with this growth in demand for packaging, further concerns begin to rise, one of them being the industry's sustainability, as mentioned before.

Environmental Impact of Packaging

When defining sustainability, one of the most common quotes was made in the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission. The definition was as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, sustainability includes balancing the act between the environment, equity, and economy, as explained by the UCLA Sustainability Committee. This committee’s formal definition was “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come” (What is Sustainability?). The packaging industry is a major material consumer, as well as a major waste material producer and energy user. In fact, the major portion of municipal solid waste, shortened to MSW, is fabricated of containers and packaging. These categories include paper and paperboard, glass, aluminum, plastics, and wood. Therefore, the packaging processes must remain as sustainable as possible. A way to ensure that is by taking the “4Rs of Sustainability” into careful consideration. The four Rs stand for reduce, reuse, recycle, and recovery. The image below lists the four in order of preference.

A life cycle analysis should also be performed when trying to determine how sustainable the examined process is. This analysis includes the beginning of the process flow until the end, including all materials and energy utilized, rather than just a simple process step like the manufacturing or post-production phases.


An item of interest that often appears when discussing sustainable packaging is bioplastics due to the amount of traditional plastic waste and pollution. Bioplastics can be considered biobased, biodegradable, or both due to their composition of natural resources like vegetable oils, starches, fats, recycled food waste, and sawdust. These materials are different than the typical petroleum composition in regular plastics. The two main types of bioplastics are polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The image below shows the process of what a bioplastic typically lives through.

Although bioplastics are made up of natural resources, unlike the traditional plastic typically seen, further analysis must determine whether its environmental impact is genuinely different. This is where life cycle analysis must be utilized. Their decomposition period is three to six months, significantly smaller than traditional plastic, which can take up to hundreds of years to decompose. However, some studies suggest that bioplastic production produces more pollutants. The pollutants appear within the fertilizers and pesticides used to grow the plants used for the material.

On the other hand, other studies suggest that bioplastics could cut greenhouse emissions down by a significant amount in the United States. Although the studies may contradict one another, another factor to consider is that the bioplastics must be appropriately disposed of to fulfill their eco-friendly purposes, which cannot be ensured entirely of happening within an entire population. Incorrect disposal of bioplastics would result in the material being tossed into a landfill, defeating its purpose of supporting sustainability.

A notable detail to consider is that, as of now, bio-based plastics are not more sustainable than petroleum plastics by definition. Most bioplastics are also more expensive to produce than typical plastics. Therefore, solid evidence must be obtained to see if bioplastics are more advantageous than the original. Other alternatives to be studied in the future for single-use plastic include but are not limited to the following: beeswax, bamboo, and cotton-based containers.


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