Biodegradable Food Packaging

04.26.16 // Heritage Paper

Biodegradable food packaging was once a novelty, but is now widely used and available in a multitude of standard and custom products. The explosion of interest in these materials is a reflection of growing consumer concern about sustainability and the environment. Eco friendly items are used for many types of fast foods, processed foods, and beverages – including dairy products, bakery items, deli items, salads, soups, and snacks. Case packs of products such as coffee, disposable cutlery, and bulk foods, can take advantage of sustainable packaging materials as well. As specialists in food packaging design, packaging fulfillment, and distribution, Heritage Pioneer can assist food manufacturers, processors, and distributors in selecting the proper materials for their unique needs.

Types of Materials

Items are manufactured from paper based materials with high pre and post consumer waste content, and from plastic substitute materials, the most well known being PLA, or polylactic acid. PLA material is derived from sugarcane or corn starch, and has many of the thermoforming and protective characteristics of plastic. PLA can be used to make thermoformed trays for fresh and frozen foods, and is suitable for microwavable and hot fill applications. It is also used for sandwich bags and other types of food containment and storage. Historically, PLA has been a relatively expensive type of biodegradable food packaging, but its cost is falling to heightened demand and innovation and improvements in manufacturing processes. High content post consumer waste (PCW) paper materials are also more available and more competitively priced than in past years, again because of increased demand and greater recycling and reprocessing capacity coming on line to meet it. As biodegradable food packaging gains acceptance from food manufacturers and processors, availability and price will continue to improve.

Types of Biodegradable Food Packaging Products

Commonly used standard items include baking sheets, bread bags, paper plates, clamshell sandwich containers, portion cups, lidded and unlidded soup bowls, single and multiple compartment trays, clamshell and two piece salad containers, side dish containers, beverage cups, desert containers, and pie containers. These products can be customized to accommodate special sizes and with labeling or printing for product identification or branding purposes. Standard products have the advantage of being available at competitive prices in small quantities, with same day or next day delivery. Custom products are more suitable for high volume requirements and when branding is a priority.

Recycled folding cartons, used as primary packaging for cereal, snack foods, and a host of other products, are frequently chosen because of their sustainable characteristics. For secondary packaging in the food industry, PLA based shrink films are becoming more widely available, and compostable and degradable loose fill products have been on the market for many years. Corrugated shipping boxes with high post consumer waste content can be used without compromising product protection.


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