(A Sustainable Transition towards A Zero Waste Era)
Plastic is being used as a packaging material for decades, but as the world gradually realised its adverse impacts on the environment, businesses and consumers have started shifting towards biodegradable packaging.
Biodegradable packaging is an eco-friendly substitute of single use plastic packaging as it returns to the nature in a harmless form after being discarded. A significant amount of packaging waste is generated each year which is primarily moved to landfills. According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), around 14.5 million ton of plastic packaging waste was produced in 2018 from which more than 69% waste was sent to landfills. Thus, along with reducing such waste, biodegradable packaging is required to ensure a sustainable transition towards a zero waste era. An era in which resources are recovered, reused and conserved in a way that the ecosystem and human life remains healthy and safe.
Let’s explore few biodegradable packaging materials and advantages of such packaging to find out how it helps in reducing waste production.
Biodegradable Packaging Materials
• Mycelium or Mushroom Packaging
Mycelium is a part of mushroom used in packaging which is completely biodegradable, toxic free and a renewable resource. The organic break down property allows it to be a significant material in sustainable packaging. It is an economic alternative to fuel based materials and is suitable to frame into various forms. The packaging made from this material characterises to be tough, flameproof and water resistant (Krivanek, 2020).
• Bagasse Packaging
Bagasse is a sugarcane byproduct which remains after sugar removal. It degrades naturally and happens to be a renewable resource. Bagasse packaging is environment friendly as it decomposes quickly instead of staying in the environment for a long period of time and posing threat to the nature. Moreover, this quality ensures zero waste generation of such packaging after discard. It is mostly used as an alternative to Styrofoam which takes almost 500 years to break down completely. Packaging produced from bagasse include; cups, boxes and pouches.
• Cornstarch Packaging
As the name suggests this material is obtained from corn which is a renewable resource as it is available in huge quantities to utilize in packaging. Cornstarch packaging is commonly used as an alternative to plastic packaging for making bags, containers and other forms of food packaging. It is made from a natural and non-toxic material, therefore, it poses minimum harm to the environment and human health.
• Bamboo Packaging
Over few years, bamboo has become a sustainable solution in terms of biodegradable packaging. Bamboo regrows quickly as compared to other plants used for packaging, thus it is a green option for both businesses and consumers. Guinness World Records states bamboo as a fastest growing plant. Thus, it is abundantly available and takes minimum amount of resources to be planted which makes it a cost effective option for businesses.
Advantages of Biodegradable Packaging
Biodegradable packaging is made from natural and non-toxic materials. Thus, it assures the consumers they are using safe packaging which would neither cause harm to them nor to the environment.
• Reduction in Waste generation
As biodegradable packaging breaks down naturally in short time period, it leaves no waste and saves oceans, landfills and atmosphere from toxic pollution. In this way, the plastics which were primarily used for packaging products will start excluding from the environment, making a green shift towards a zero waste era.
• Energy Conservation
Sustainable materials require less energy for production as compared to plastics. Thus, the increase use of biodegradable packaging promises reduction in energy consumption along with minimisation of non-renewable resource usage such as fossil fuels.
• Combat Climate Crisis
Plastic consumption has extreme effects on the climate as its generation release poisonous greenhouse gases. Therefore, switching to biodegradable packaging can solve serious issues such as global warming and pollution.
• Improves soil quality
As biodegradable packaging is usually compostable, it can provide essential nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) to the soil refining its fertility. Moreover, the compost from such packaging can be useful to replace toxic fertilisers used to grow plants.
Though stepping towards a zero waste society is challenging but one step at a time will make this sustainable transformation possible. The change in consumer habits will certainly lead to the innovation of more renewable, recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials. Thus, it is essential for the upcoming generations to understand the importance of sustainable consumption that promises a clean and green environment.
Krivanek, S. (2020). Fungal Mycelium; The Key to a Sustainable Future .
Phasing Out Single Use Plastics
Plastic pollution is rapidly increasing over the past few decades due to massive production and consumption of single use plastic products. The discarding after single use feature seems quiet convenient for the consumers, but the drastic effects it has on the environmental and human health are usually not realised. Our oceans, rivers and landfills are constantly receiving tons of single use plastics every year. According to a report of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) “From Pollution to Solution”, most of the waste lying in seas and oceans comprises of plastic which is around 85% of the overall marine waste.
Disposable plastics are typically thrown after single use but stay in the environment for hundreds of years. With the growing consumption of such plastic products, it will be rather difficult to combat the plastic pollution issue in the coming years. The report by UNEP also suggests that the current ocean waste of about 11 million metric tons will increase three times in the next two decades if serious actions are not taken.
Let’s take a look at some major threats single use plastics pose to the marine life, environment and human health.
Threats to Marine Life
Marine life is posed to serious threats due to single use plastic waste. Not just it effects the health of aquatic species but also disturbs the ecosystem. Plastic is a non-biodegradable material but it transforms over a period of time into tiny pieces called micro plastics. These micro plastics eventually end up in the digestive system of aquatic animals and endanger their lives. According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), about 90 percent sea birds contain plastic in their bodies. Sea Turtles often eat plastic bags as they look like Jelly fish which results in their death due to being indigestible. Moreover, plastic waste drops to the seabed adversely effecting coral reefs that are a source of habitat for marine animals.
Threats to the Environment
Plastic production mainly depends on fossil fuels that are extremely harmful for the environment. It is a prime cause of climate crisis as burning fossil fuels results in emission of greenhouse gases. Hence, if we rely on single use plastic products such as plastic bags, straws and cups, the increase demand will influence the producers to generate such products, which in turn harms the environment as significant amount of fossil fuel is needed to produce them. Increased emission of greenhouse gases allows heat to trap in the atmosphere which makes its way back to the oceans, rising the temperature. This whole process eventually leads to global warming.
Threats to Human Life
Single use plastic products have alarming impacts on human life. When micro plastics enters into the body of aquatic animals, it indirectly ends up into the food chain. When humans eat marine animals such as fish, these micro plastics settle inside their body. According to a report; Plastic & Health ‘’The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet’’, it has been suggested that digestion of micro plastics can lead to various diseases such as stroke, diabetes and sometimes even cause cancer. Moreover, when single use plastic waste is thrown on the streets, rainwater accumulates in them, making a home for mosquitos that also spread diseases like dengue in humans.
Phasing out disposable plastic products is not an easy task, it requires time and a conscious effort to make sustainable choices that lead to a green environment for both human and marine life.
Here are few ways that consumers, businesses and governments can follow to phase out single use plastics.
Purchase Reusable or Refillable Items
Buy metal containers to keep them for water storage and always keep cloth bags with you to avoid plastic bags for shopping. These alternative will allow you to cut your expenses in the long run as you don’t have to buy such items frequently. Moreover, purchase from companies that offer biodegradable packaging, which allows you to reduce your environmental footprint. It not only benefits the consumers but helps businesses to show their responsibility towards the environment.
Put Ban on Single Use Plastics
Making strict policies to fight against the problem of plastic pollution is the need of the hour. Governments should focus on implementing ban on plastic production and encourage businesses which promote sustainable products and biodegradable packaging. Moreover, proper waste management needs to be done to ensure the safety of the environment.
It’s not just a liability of consumers to buy reusable alternatives but also the responsibility of local governments to take strict action against the production of single use plastics so that businesses become bound to provide consumers with eco-friendly options to reduce the dependency on such products.