Bioplastic push: NatureWorks’ global director predicts growth in compostable and bioplastic packaging
17 Jan 2023 --- Bioplastics are gaining traction among packagers as consumer demands for environmentally sustainable alternatives to plastics, including compostables, continue to trend upward.
PackagingInsights speaks to Mariagiovanna Vetere, global public affairs director at NatureWorks, about the growth of the bioplastics industry while remaining a “young” material and how legislation is having a positive impact on pushing toward ecological innovations.
“We see the global market demand for biomaterials continuing to grow at a rapid pace. With the unwavering consumer focus on climate change and plastic waste, brands and retailers acting on circular economy principles and increased plastics legislation happening in Europe, the US and certain countries in Asia.”
“We expect to see continued growth in packaging applications that take advantage of the unique performance and sustainability attributes only found in biopolymers made with renewable carbon like our Ingeo PLA,” explains Vetere about one of NatueWork’s bioplastics solutions.
Growing the “young” material
Vetere tells us that the bioplastics industry is still relatively young compared to the petrochemical plastics industry, making room for opportunities to implement bioplastic packaging.
“Currently, all bioplastics, including Ingeo PLA, still represent less than 1% of the total plastics market, producing more than 367 million metric tons of plastic annually. With growing pressure to take actionable steps to reduce plastic waste and mitigate climate change, the demand for sustainable material alternatives is not going to diminish.”
According to data recently published by European Bioplastics, it is predicted that the share of bioplastics in global plastic production will bypass the 2% mark by 2026.
“Think there’s an opportunity for brand owners to accelerate the adoption of bioplastics, especially in applications such as food packaging,” continues Vetere.
Many packaging industry members have complained of wanting universal and more explicit legislation to more easily create optimized solutions. Changes in legislation mean many operational changes within the back end for packaging industry members. “The reuse and recycled content targets will bring a new wave of challenges to packaging designers and will probably change how we all do our shopping today.”
However, Vetere also commends governments’ steps to demand more circularity from plastics. “It’s positive to see early drafts of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive recognize the value compostable packaging has in making it easy for consumers to divert food scraps to composting.”
“Packaging is linked to many diverse business sectors, improves the daily lives of billions by preventing food waste and is regarded negatively by people and policymakers. It’s important, in my view, to understand the achievements in terms of health, safety, food waste prevention and convenience that have been possible thanks to packaging and support policymakers in making decisions that, while improving the environmental impact of packaging waste, recognize the benefits of good packaging.”
A common use of compostable packaging has been in coffee and tea products. Last year many companies such as Nespresso and Migros Cooperative innovated in the space. The focus on compostables is a response to the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulations (PPWR), which demand such products to be compostable.
“The PPWR, by mandating the use of compostable plastic to produce items such as tea bags, coffee capsules and lightweight bags, is recognizing the role of compostable packaging in reducing and help avoid the plastic contamination of organic waste and compost.”
Yet, even with legislation moving in a positive direction, there is still more work to move away from the focus on the end-of-life stages of plastics and gain a complete picture regarding changes.
“Biobased and compostable packaging provides many benefits in terms of reduced CO2 emissions and reduced dependence on fossil-based feedstocks,” explains Vetere.
“However, legislation largely does not recognize how bioplastics can help us decouple from non-renewable, fossil-based feedstocks instead of using annual low-carbon, renewable feedstocks. The legislation primarily focuses on the end-of-life scenarios tied to packaging, such as recycling or composting.”
Countries push for change
The packaging industry has witnessed a global push toward sustainable solutions with the introduction of new legislation and packagers responding to consumers’ affinity for more environmentally friendly solutions. “Renewable sourced materials that provide both a small carbon footprint and more after-use options like compostability are increasingly turned to as a solution.”
“We are particularly encouraged by countries that see the connection between climate targets and plastics and enacting legislation or regulation that supports improvements in plastic packaging from how it’s sourced, use annually renewable carbon as a feedstock, to how it’s thrown away, like with composting for food packaging.”
Fighting food waste
Another critical feature of bioplastic and compostable packaging Vetere highlights is its high performance in food packaging for battling food waste. “Compostability in food packaging is a critical attribute for addressing both plastic waste and greenhouse gas emissions,” she says.
“Compostable applications like rigid food packaging, paper coatings, bin liners, flexible packaging, tea bags, or coffee capsules make it easy for consumers to direct their food scraps to compost, where they become valuable nutrients. This also keeps food scraps out of incinerators or landfills where that food generates methane as it degrades.”
According to the global public affairs director, “globally, landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions. Therefore, from a climate perspective, it’s critically important to use tools like compostable packaging or food service ware that help divert more food away from landfills to compost.”
By Sabine Waldeck
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