Five Promising Materials That Will Play a Lead Role in the Fight Against Plastic Pollution
In the current world, plastics are used in a wide range of applications and industries. They can be found in everything from cars to computers, and even clothing. Plastics are an integral part of modern life and they play an important role in food safety and food accessibility. Unfortunately, their widespread use has led to a number of environmental issues. Their durability makes it difficult for them to be broken down by natural processes, which means that they can persist in the environment for decades or even centuries. In addition, many plastics contain additives such as phthalates, which have been shown to cause health problems in animals.
So how can we overcome the plastic problem? Overcoming the plastic problem requires a combination of strict legislation to enforce the use of recycled plastic materials, together with technological developments and innovations to find alternatives that are in no way inferior to their plastic counterparts. Luckily the plastic problem has long sparked the interest of some of the smartest researchers and institutions, who are working on sustainable plastic alternatives.
Let us dive into five of the most promising materials that will help overcome the plastic problem in the near future.
Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable sources such as corn, potato starch, wheat straw and sugar cane. In addition to being biodegradable and compostable, they are also very similar to traditional plastics in terms of their chemical composition. While they have been around for a while, bioplastics have so far failed to gain widespread adoption in the market. This is largely due to their high production costs, which make them more expensive than traditional plastics. However, scientists are constantly working on developing new processes that will make bioplastics cheaper and more widely available. Continuous investments in bioplastics production promise a steady increase in adoption in the future, combined with increased sustainability of production processes.
Just in June this year, the VTT Finland announced that it developed a highly versatile transparent cellulose film from wood byproducts that promises to replace many traditional plastic food packages.
2) Recycled fiber
In addition to bioplastics, there are other types of alternative packaging that can replace traditional plastics. One example is paper-based packaging made from 100 percent recycled fibers. Unlike conventional paper, this type has a high moisture resistance and can keep food fresh for longer periods of time. This packaging innovation could significantly reduce the environmental impact of traditionally plastic-coated food packaging, such as coffee cups and take out boxes.
Silicone packaging is another alternative to plastic that can reduce the environmental impact of food packaging. Silicone-based packaging has been used in a range of industries, including medical applications and food processing. The material is flexible and can be moulded into many shapes, making it ideal for use with products such as fruit and vegetable bags. The material is also highly durable, stretchable, and temperature resistant. One of the most well-known applications of silicone is Silicone stretches. They are an elegant alternative to single-use plastic wrap. Made of silicone, they can go in the microwave and be put into the oven. These lids can be used to cover any sort of storage container. The best part? You’ll save a ton of money and not have to buy Tupperware in all kinds of sizes!
Bamboo alternatives are a great option for those looking to reduce their impact on the environment. Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable resource that can be used for many things. Apart from kitchen and bathroom necessities like toothbrushes, cotton buds, hairbrushes, or cutlery, bamboo can be processed into furniture, paper, clothing, and even bike frames!
Its versatility not only makes bamboo a good replacement for plastic products but also a great packaging alternative. Application examples include jar lids, bamboo paper packaging, shipment cushions, and many more.
It’s also naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal which makes it ideal for use in food preparation areas.
If you want to read more about bamboo, feel free to read our previous article about 5 reasons why we love bamboo on our SWOP blog.
Aluminum is a true recycling superhero. Unlike PET or other recyclable plastics, aluminum can be infinitely recycled without losing quality. In fact, the International Aluminum Institute states that 75 % of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.
Especially in the beverage industry, aluminum cans could reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic bottles significantly. Many of the world’s biggest beverage producers like Coca Cola and Pepsi announced plans to offer more products in aluminum cans and prioritize the material for newly developed products. Time will tell if these plans get executed, but they certainly spark hope.
Aside from the wide-spread applications in food and beverages, the adoption of aluminum packaging for various products can promise reducing the need for single use plastics production. Examples are hand soap, toothpaste, lotions, or bodywash.
On a final note, we do want to acknowledge that materials are only a small part of sustainable packaging and should be paired with efficient production processes and recycling systems to be impactful. Having said that, considering all variables into a simple choice at the grocery store can be overwhelming to the average consumer.
Against that backdrop, we strongly believe that including the above materials into individual conscious choices in everyday life can create a true impact by fostering innovation and sequentially increasing efficiency, sustainability, price, and adoption of more sustainable packaging solutions.