Does Your Food Packaging Meet This Lofty Goal?

What is an ideal food packaging?

Food packaging technology must not only play the important function of protecting food, it must keep an eye on energy and material costs and be mindful of any  environmental impact such as pollution and disposal of municipal solid waste - a fine balancing act indeed.

An ideal food package:

  • needs to be made of materials that maintain the quality and safety of the food indefinitely with no degradation over time;
  • is attractive;
  • is convenient and easy to use while conveying all pertinent information;
  • is inexpensive
  • is made from renewable resources;
  • generates no waste for disposal.

It is called an ideal food package as rarely can we find food packages that meet this lofty goal.  Aside from wanting a packaging that is inexpensive, attractive convenient and easy to use, the most important attribute is the material it is made of and hence its successful disposal with no negative impact on the environment.

Element 100% biodegradable tableware has the attributes that ticks all the boxes.

Element tableware:

  • is 100% biodegradable meeting industry certification including OK Biobased by Vincotte and ASTM D6400 and D6866; and therefore is fully biodegradable in the right environment within 90 days.
  • is 72% more carbon efficient than traditional plastics, such polystyrene.
  • is made from Origo, a bioplastic created from non-GM corn and yam starch, blending with polypropylene pallets for water proofing and heat resistance qualities. With the look and feel of conventional plastic, Origo is extremely versatile and comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes;
  • plates, lunch boxes, tray, cups, bowls and cutlery comes in twelve vibrant and fashionable colours ranging from Midnight Black to Citron Yellow vibrant and chic, unlikely the mundane earthy choices of most eco-friendly tableware;
  • is competitively priced compared to normal plastics and cheaper than most biodegradable and compostable products;
  • can go from the freezer to the microwave, withstand temperatures between -20°C and 120 °C; is strong and durable, oil and water proof, non-toxic, as well as acid and alkali resistant.

How does Element compare with other type of bioplastic food packaging?

Bioplastics  - a niche offering not so long are now being used as material for a wide range of products and touted as the eco-friendly way to go. The feedstock of bio-based polymers is derived from a readily renewable source – such as corn or starch – instead of fossil-based sources of traditional plastics. Their properties with regards to sustainable solutions and functionality vary depending on the feedstock used and the way the plastics are put together.

Advantages:  Biodegradable or compostable, thus recycled back to the environment as humus and fertilizers.

Disadvantages:

  • Normally more costly than plastic food packaging
  • Often comes in mundane earthy and unattractive colours.
  • Biodegradability and compostability and are not based on the feedstock but on the way the plastics are put together. Not all compost facilities can compost bioplastics. In some facilities, the plastic-coated packaging get separated and no visible plastic is left in the compost, while in others the nearly invisible tiny fragments of plastic can ultimately ends up contaminating the environment. Bioplastics can only be included in composting if they meet the international standards that define compostable materials,.
  • The degradation or decomposition process can release toxic products that could migrate into the food, making it unsafe. Modern landfills may not have the conducive environment to biodegrade products quickly because of the oxygen and moisture. The process of biodegration and composting itself can release the potent methane gas and the byproduct can be a toxic residue.

Biodegration needs to be carried out in specially constructed bioreactor landfills that are designed to rapidly degrade organic
waste 
by adding liquid or air to   speed microbial processes.

How does Element compare with other type of food packaging?

The most common packaging materials are glass, metal, paper and plastic.

  • Glass* - long been used for food packaging. Glass containers used to pack food are often surface-coated to provide lubrication so as to eliminate scratching or abrasion in the production line. The coating also helps to increase and preserve strength, reduces breakage and allows manufacturers to use thinner glass thus reducing weight.
    Advantages: It is odourless, chemically inert, and impermeable to gases and vapours thus maintain product freshness and taste for a long period. It can also be quite easily reusable and recyclable.
    Disadvantages: it is heavy and adds to transportation costs and is susceptible to breakage.
  • Metal* - the most versatile of all packaging forms. The two metals most commonly used in packaging are aluminium and steel. Aluminium is used for beverage cans, foils and laminates.
    Advantages: It offers a combination of excellent physical protection and barrier properties, formability and decorative potential, recyclability, and consumer acceptance.
    Disadvantages: Costly, especially, aluminium. Although steel and aluminium, laminates and metalized films, on their own can be easily recyclable, but when used with other materials, especially laminates for paper products etc.  The recycling becomes a challenge as the difficulty in sorting and separating the materials makes the process economically unfeasible.
  • Paper* - a widely used packaging materials, particularly corrugated cardboard which is used for transport packaging. Paper and paperboards are commonly used in milk cartons, paper plates, and cups. When used as food packaging paper is almost always treated, coated, laminated, or impregnated with materials such as waxes, resins, or lacquers to improve functional and protective properties. Paper cups have a microthin plastic lining (LDPE coating) to make them impermeable.
    Advantages: The recycling rate for paper is quite good.
    Disadvantages: The lamination inevitable increases costs and depending on the material used to laminate, recycling can become challenging.  The paper cup with the LDPE coating is non-recyclable and more costly than a polystyrene foam cup.
  • Plastics* – the most popular form of food packaging mainly because of it low cost and functionality. Of the two major categories of plastics thermosets and thermoplastics, thermoplastics are ideal for food packaging as they can be easily moulded and shaped into various types of products such as bottles, jugs and plastic films. There has been some safety concerns but despite this, many types of plastics have been used for packaging food, the most common being polyolefins and polyesters. Polyolefin is a collective term for polyethylene and polypropylene, the two most widely used plastics in food packaging. Polystyrene, an addition polymer of styrene is another plastic most commonly used especially for cups and food trays because of its impact protection and thermal insulation properties.  Polystyrene foam is used for fast-food packaging and hot drink cups because it is light, sanitary, recyclable, and insulates to keep foods hot while being cool to touch.
    Advantages: Low cost and functional advantages such as thermosealability, microwavability, flexibility, strength, lightness, stability, moisture and chemical resistance, optical properties, and unlimited sizes and shapes. Moreover, almost all thermoplastics are recyclable though certain products can pose separation limitations as this depends on the resin types used in the material. Disadvantages: Health concerns regarding residual monomer and components in plastics, including stabilizers, plasticizers, and condensation components such as bisphenol and migration of substance into food which is classified as an indirect food additive subject to FDA regulations.

          The issue about waste disposal of plastic and paper food packaging is:
          Definitely not to be recycled into new food containers for sanitation reasons. They can be recycled for other uses, on condition that they           can be separated easily. Most food packaging is made of mixed materials for more functionality and resource and energy efficiency and             this combination of materials poses a great challenge to recycling because of the lack of facilities and technology necessary to separate                materials to avoid contamination. Polystyrene can be recycled, but systems for doing this are not well established.

        [*Source: Food Packaging -- Roles, Materials, and Environmental Issues First published in Journal of Food Science. April 2007. 72 (3),               R39–R55. doi:10.1111/j.17503841.2007.00301.x.]