The Future of Food Part 7: Packaging Beyond Plastics

Steering Away from Plastics?

In recent years the world has come to realise the devastating environmental impact of plastics. Since the plastic revolution, 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste has been produced worldwide. We store roughly 79% of plastic waste in landfills, which results in up to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste entering oceans via rivers every year. In response to these shocking statistics, Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza recently opened the world’s first entirely plastic-free aisle in one of its stores, which sent excited ripples across the food packaging industry. It is likely other supermarket chains will follow this plastic-free approach in the coming years. There are a few alternatives for them consider.


Glass is one option, advantageous because it is endlessly recyclable. But glass packaging and bottles are heavy and can easily break. Like glass, aluminium’s sustainability means it has great appeal too. And because it can be used in modern microwaves, aluminium is a popular alternative to microwaveable plastic packaging.

A third plastic replacement option is biopolymers, which are often used by manufacturers who still demand the malleability of plastics for their packaging. Biodegradable polymers can break down into smaller molecules, such as CO2, CH4 and H2O, by microorganisms under aerobic or anaerobic conditions. The most commonly known synthetic biodegradable polymers is polylactide (PLA), which is formed from lactic acid in corn. Because of its sustainability PLA is considered the most promising candidate to replace current plastics. However, PLA has one serious downsid -- its poor thermal properties limit its use in high temperatures (above 60 °C).  

Currently, most bio-plastics derive from terrestrial sources related to the food industry, including corn, cassava and sugar cane. But one new, arguably more innovative solution is replacing plastic with seaweed. According to the UK government, global seaweed production more than doubled between 2000 and 2014, as many new businesses successfully commercialize seaweed as a packaging option. Seaweed is totally biodegradable, decomposing within four to six weeks. It’s also abundant, as scientists estimate that 0.03 per cent of the world's brown seaweed could replace all of the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles humans use each year. Another viable alternative to plastic is bamboo. This incredibly fast-growing plant could serve as a highly sustainable and completely biodegradable source of material. Although critics bemoan its lack of malleability.

As the world steers away from its intense reliance on plastic, Cashmere is committed to supporting companies who are moving away from single-use plastic packaging, learn more about how we can help you by getting in touch.