What Are the Plastic Packaging Alternatives?

Teresa Madaleno

We’ve been hearing a lot about plastics lately; specifically, how detrimental they are to our planet. By now most people have heard about cloth shopping bags, stainless steel or bamboo straws and water bottles, as well as a host of other household items that used to be exclusively made of plastics. What many people don’t know and often ask us here at Sparta Capital is, what are the alternatives to plastic packaging?

The answer is actually a long one. That’s because there are many different materials that can be used to package consumer goods in an environment-friendly manner. Some of these materials are more expensive or more difficult to work with than others but if you take a look at the list below, you will soon realize that there really is no reason for us to be so dependent on non-biodegradable plastics.

Here’s a list of materials that have been developed as alternatives to traditional plastic packaging:

Bioplastics – these are plant-based plastics that are made from various sources, including corn. They break down into polylactic acid, commonly referred to as PLA. Bioplastics can be used to make drink bottles, food containers, and films.
Stone paper and plastic – yes stone can make packaging. It can be recyclable and water-proof. It is made from calcium carbonate, which uses less water and has a low carbon footprint. Stone paper can be used to make food grade packaging, take-out food cartons, and Zip-lock bags.
Palm leaves – a natural waste product of the areca palm plant can be used to produce biodegradable packaging. A company in Berlin is using palm leaf to package foods like fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.
Edible six-pack ring – we’ve introduced you to the edible six-pack ring in previous Sparta blogs. It is made of barley and wheat, which are by-products of the brewing process. If and when the rings are dropped in the ocean, sea life can consume them as opposed to get tangled up in them.
Wood pulp cellophane – NatureFlex is a cousin to cellophane, but it is made of cellulose derived from renewable wood pulp that is sustainably harvested. It comes in “Uncoated”, “semi-Permeable”, and “Barrier”, making it suitable for everything from delicate chocolates to fresh produce and dairy, as well as personal care items.
Milk protein – the protein found in milk (Casein) can be mixed with clay and a reactive molecule to develop strong biodegradable plastic. Right now, this type of plastic is being used by the detergent industry but the food and beverage industry, as well as the pharmaceutical industry can also use this alternative form of plastic.
PLA Polyesters – this is alphatic polyester made from lactic acid, wheat, or sugarcane. It can decompose within 48 hours and doesn’t release toxic fumes.
Prawn shells – scientists around the world have been working with chitosan, which comes from prawn and crab shells, to make a plastic alternative. It is believed that the material has the potential to replace plastic packaging for various foods.
Chicken feathers – believe it or not, chicken feathers can be used to make a water-resistant thermoplastic. It turns out that chicken feathers have keratin in them, which is a tough protein that is found in hair. Keratin-based plastic is said to be resistant to ripping and it is cost-effective to produce. It is also renewable and fully biodegradable.

Experiments with a number of other materials are underway across the globe. Innovation and a will to limit harmful plastics is driving many companies and consumers to demand something more sustainable. Some packaging experts believe that it won’t be long before the market is saturated with more environment friendly plastics.