To understand what makes food packaging biodegradable, it’s important to distinguish it from other often synonymously used terminology. The terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’, for example, should not be used interchangeably. Biodegradable products should be able to break down naturally. This natural process follows three key stages: ‘biodeterioration’, ‘biofragmentation’, and ‘assimilation’. Compostable packaging, by contrast, requires more specific environmental factors in order to successfully be broken down. This can may include certain temperature or moisture level thresholds, for example. Such products will also vary in their ability to be recycled. Paper and card-based products, for example, are compostable and are also recyclable. By contrast, Biopolymer and Bio-plastic products classed as compostable are not recyclable.
One of the main benefits of biodegradable packaging is the relative ease with which it can be successfully broken down – particularly in contrast with compostable packaging requiring specialist industrial equipment – which is typically in short supply. In addition, through the use of bioplastics and other sustainable materials, biodegradable food packaging often carrier a lower carbon footprint than traditional packaging manufactured from plastics and other chemicals.
Biodegradable food packaging is not without its limitations, however. While biodegradable packaging can successful break down without the use of specialist machinery, this process can still be lengthy. Also, while specialist equipment is not necessarily needed, some biodegradable items will still need to be be processed in a suitable environment to assist in the end-of-life process. For example, biodegradable packaging that is not properly disposed of and becomes litter can take a far greater period of time to successfully decompose. In addition, some biodegradable products can leave behind harmful substances and gases as they break down into the environment.
We also regularly provide updates on the industry’s latest sustainability breakthroughs including initiatives from a range of grocery retailers and foodservice brands. Click on the link below to keep up to date with our sustainability news feed featuring updates on recycling practices and facilities, plastic reduction, waste avoidance, material technology and other key innovations.