Since plastics were first introduced, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced. Due to their functional properties and low cost, the use of plastics as packaging feedstock was integrated into all global economies and its production increased twenty-fold over the past half-century.
Currently, packaging represents 26% of the total volume of plastics used. With recent, big investments into new plastic producing plants by large petrochemical corporations, a 40% rise in plastic production is expected for the next decade.
Although plastics are very important for many industries, its use is being questioned due to its limited recyclability and impact on ocean natural ecosystems, as well as food and soil pollution.
Why Plastics Need an Innovation Makeover
95% of plastic value is lost after first use because it loses its initial properties after transformation. This results in a 14% rate of collection. According to EPA, approximately 70% of plastics in the US are destined to landfill, where they take 10 to 1000 years to decompose.
The lack of commercial interest in recycling, and the rise of waste generation, have recently led to import bans and increased tax rates. China imported almost half of the world's plastic refuse since 1992. However, in its struggle to reduce the water, air, and land pollution, the country banned 24 types of scraps from entering its borders starting this year.
In relation to health, food, and environment, the growth of plastic pollution is causing global alarm and governments to ban its use. In Europe, the EU Parliament has just voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the union in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans. 49% of marine litter collected on EU beaches is single-use plastics. Fish, marine mammals, and seabirds are being injured and killed by plastic pollution and it is believed that 700 species could go extinct because of it in the next decade. Because of this, single-use plastics such as straws, plates, cutlery, and cotton-swab sticks will be banned in Europe by 2021.
Food and drinking water are also being contaminated by small debris of plastics, which is being considered an emerging concern according to this recent study. The research revealed that the global drinking water supply is now contaminated with microplastics and plastic fibers, highlighting risks for both humans and the marine ecosystems. The risk is due to plastic's ability to adhere highly carcinogenic chemicals, metals, and bacteria at concentrations many times higher than its immediate surroundings, which produces reproductive toxicants and carcinogens such as phthalates, alkylphenols, and bisphenol A.
Another study revealed the widespread of microplastics in the food chain and estimated its presence in the stools of 50% of the world population. The smallest particles of plastic are able to enter the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and even reach the liver, which can lead to gastrointestinal and other diseases.
With plastic packaging wrecking havoc on our environment and health, it is time to create radical change. Corporate Innovators and startups alike are not waiting for government to create policy change. See below for our list of shape-shifters leading packaging innovation in 2019.
Corporations Taking the Lead
Corporations in the consumer goods, food processing, and food service industries are major producers of plastic waste and pollution. Cheap or mixed materials are usually employed resulting in very low recyclability and low recovery rates, which leads to ocean pollution.
Here are a few corporate innovators forging the path for consumer packaged goods transformation:
- Amazon just announced US $10MM funding for a closed loop fund, which finances the creation of recycling infrastructure and services in U.S. cities. Only a few cities have made recycling mandatory, and, in many municipalities, trucking trash to the landfill is still much cheaper than offering curbside recycling.
- The Kellogg Company is working towards total reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by the end of 2025. The company also recently committed to adopt compostable and paper food service products in all of its plants and offices worldwide by the end of 2018; this eliminates all single-use foam and plastic silverware, straws, and water bottles. In Europe, the company is working to move its cereal pouches to a recycle-ready material by 2019, which should remove approximately 480 tons of non-recyclable packaging from its supply chain each year.
- Dell is recycling plastic collected from waterways and beaches for use in some packaging trays. With this project, the company expects to keep 16,000 pounds of plastic from entering the ocean.
- The Hershey Company defined ambitious targets towards reducing environmental impact. Some of its goals are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, achieve zero waste-to-landfill status at all facilities, and reach a 95% company-wide recycling rate by 2025.
Startups Bringing the “New Plastic”
Here are a number of trail-blazing startups utilizing new technologies, so that we can say bye-bye to plastic:
- Tipa, Israel (2010): developed biodegradable and recyclable packaging for food and beverages, including snacks and frozen food. Its technology mimics the orange peel, with multi-barrier, protective layers offering high resistance to oxygen and water vapor permeation. Its packaging degrades after 180 days in industrial compost.
- Valentis NanoTech, Israel (2013): developed coating and packaging material for various industries by combining biodegradable extracts from plant pulp and nanoparticles. In lab tests and limited trials, films showed added strength, greater spectral control, improved oxygen barrier, and other functionalities.
- Xylophane AB, Sweden (2004): developed renewable and biodegradable barrier material for packaging. The company offers a packaging material that acts as a barrier to oxygen, grease, and aroma, and improves the shelf life of sensitive foods.
- Algix, USA (2010): developed products from algae, including bioplastic resins which can be customized according to client’s requirement. These bioplastics have application in packaging, agriculture, horticulture, consumer electronics, and the food services industry. Through its joint venture Bloomfoam, the company manufactures flexible foam using algae.
- Halo Coffee, UK (2016): developed a Nespresso compatible, 100% compostable capsule made from sugar and paper pulp. It claims that the coffee pod's packaging is biodegradable within 90 days.
- Sulapac, Finland (2017): developed a biodegradable and microplastic-free material made of FSC-certified wood and natural binders for cosmetic packaging and gift boxes. It is patented and can be used with existing production machinery.
- Bioplas, Sydney (2014): developed products made from certified Mater-Bi raw materials and compostable inks. It provides compostable waste bags for food waste collection, agricultural mulch film for sustainable agriculture, promotional retail bags, and horticultural seedling bags.
- Vericool, USA (2015): developed compostable, corrugated packaging solutions for cold chains in the grocery and pharmaceutical markets.
- Ecopol, Italy (2009): developed biodegradable and hydrosoluble polymers based of Hydrolene® for various applications including consumer goods, chemicals packaging, healthcare, and oil and gas. Its production line encompasses the entire conversion of raw materials into both intermediate and ready-end products such as films, pellets, bags, and glues.
- Ecoware, New Zealand (2011): developed biodegradable and compostable food packaging. Its products are made of renewable resources such as cornstarch and bamboo fiber.
Join the Packaging Innovation Revolution
In 2019, these corporate innovators and startups will lead the movement of packaging innovation. They continue to push the boundaries of design, cut costs, and help save the planet. Now is the time for transformation!
As an innovator, are you struggling to find alternative solutions to your product packaging and reduce your global footprint? RocketSpace can guide your exploration of new technologies and solutions through our corporate innovation services.