Bioplastics Not Complete Sustainability Solution

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies love to innovate with their packaging. Packaging is, after all, one of the top tools in the marketing playbook, and a great way to differentiate a product from its competitors. Some companies choose to switch materials to shake things up; some do packaging redesigns to achieve the slick look that has shelf appeal.
Heinz introduced its upside-down bottle in 2002 to make pouring Ketchup easier. Soda and drink companies constantly tinker with labels to achieve a new look. The competition to achieve Greener packaging has been one of the top priorities of many CPG companies as they all seek to increase the sustainability of their products. Polling data shows that increasingly more people are searching for environmentally friendly products, and the major companies are racing to meet the demands. One of the most recent developments in sustainable packaging has been the rise of bioplastics as a resin source.
Bioplastics can be a deceiving term and idea. The word “renewable” is often used to describe the value of bioplastics as a sustainable solution. It’s true to an extent; resources such as sugarcane, corn, beets, food processing plant waste and the like can all be used to produce plastic resin. But does “renewable” equate to being sustainable? The truth is that the chemical makeup of resins produced from “renewable” sources is no different from those produced from petrochemicals. Just because a bottle is derived from a plant does not reduce its need to be recycled!
History also teaches us that even though a source can be regrown, that does not necessarily make it a sustainable or pragmatic option. When it was discovered that corn could be used to produce ethanol fuel, it was initially seen as a major victory for renewable energy and a move toward a sustainable energy future. Over time, the expansion of ethanol proved to be the cause of a major worldwide increase in food prices that had a particularly negative effect on developing countries http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/wp/12-02WiseGlobalBiofuels.pdf. Paper comes from a renewable resource but, as we have learned, deforestation has had a devastating effect on many eco systems around the world. As a community moving toward a sustainable future, we must be careful when labeling a “renewable” resource as the sustainable solution and consider all the repercussions.
This isn’t to say that plastics made from “renewable” resources are bad. They are a very positive development and one that should be part of our overall plan to reduce our impact on the environment. What concerns us most is that focus will be taken away from the real issues at hand, if people are led to believe that “renewables” will solve plastics’ negative environmental image.
We believe that “renewables” are a new and important source of recyclable plastics. They must be recycled in the same manner in which all other plastics are recycled today. They will not replace fossil fuel derived plastics just as ethanol has not replaced gasoline for cars. The truth is, there just isn’t enough available economically to use it on a broad scale.
Recycling plastic is still the second most favorable environmental solution, after reuse. Let’s make sure that “renewable” plastics get recycled and that packages produced from it include recycled content.

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