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Bioplastics: The Packaging Change Agent

Did you know that the average American used 168 disposable water bottles last year? That equates to roughly 50 billion plastic bottles. That’s just water bottles; and just in the United States. Today, plastic is the packaging king with manufacturing capabilities and consumer usage at all-time highs.

The ‘plastic culture’ has become an economic engine: IBISWorld estimates the global plastic manufacturing market is around $800 billion with significant growth on the horizon. While plastics seem to have a long-term viability in the global marketplace, costs and production methods aren’t sustainable for future generations.

The costs of plastics, which are derived from petroleum, are dependent on the flux of the oil market. Anestimated 4 percent of worldwide oil consumption is used for the production of conventional plastics. Because manufacturers know that relying on fossil fuels is not a  financially practical option moving forward, they are currently investing in research and development to produce more sustainable packaging products. Enter bioplastics.

Bioplastics are made from renewable resources such as sugar cane, algae and corn or a plastic that is biodegradable/ industrial compostable or a combination of both.  These products biodegrade or decompose quicker than the most widely used polyethylene terephthalate-based plastics. Even polypropylene, polyethylene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polycarbonate and Nylon-based plastics, which are also used in significant quantities,  have bioplastic alternatives.

While the bioplastic market is still in its infancy, the future of bioplastics is promising as companies look to expand manufacturing capabilities beyond packaging and into electronics and the automobile industries.

Sustainability is a core focus of the world’s biggest and most recognizable bottling companies. Many are already taking the lead by incorporating bioplastics into their current bottling processes. For example, Coca-Cola has introduced its PlantBottle which contains about 30 percent bioplastics made from Brazilian sugar cane. Last year approximately 8 percent of its bottling output featured the new technology. The company has an ambitious 2020 goal of having a completely renewable plant-based and recycled PET plastic bottle. Coca-Cola sees this as a global opportunity to catalyze change by collaborating  with other companies to license the technology.

Sustainable packaging materials and innovative processes mean doing more for customers and the environment. How is your organization thinking about sustainable packaging? Share some examples in the comment section below.

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