How sustainable are biodegradable and plant-based plastics?

Finding solutions for the world’s plastic problem is an uphill battle. Manufacturers and consumers alike are now accustomed to products and packaging made lighter, less costly and more convenient by plastic, the iterations of which have only grown more complex. As it stands, we are manufacturing approximately 300 million tons of plastics across the world every year, and this number continues to grow.

The scope of the world’s plastic problem goes beyond straining Earth’s finite resources; it is also a waste management issue. It is estimated that up to 129 million tons (43%) of the plastic used per year is disposed of by landfill or incineration, and approximately 10 to 20 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans.

Rethinking all aspects of the plastics supply chain in terms of full lifecycle, from sourcing to end-of-life, is the key for manufacturers and major brands aiming to design into a more circular plastics economy. Driven by demand for more sustainability and positive environmental impacts in consumer packaged goods (CPGs), there is a growing industry for bioplastics—plastics made from plant biomass, such as corn.

One argument in support of increased use of bioplastics is mainly that the raw materials used to generate it are more sustainably sourced than petroleum-based plastic. Abundant availability of raw materials for manufacturing bioplastics place less strain on resource supply, as well as cause less strain to the earth from sourcing processes. Drilling for oil to use for petroleum-based plastic may disturb land and ocean habitats, and is a major source of emissions and airborne byproducts.

Bioplastics can be broadly broken down into two categories: durable and biodegradable. For instance, the PlantBottle is a durable bioplastic alternative to traditional PET bottles made by Coca-Cola. Made with up to 30% ethanol sourced from plant material, the PlantBottle won’t decompose, but it can be recycled with traditional PET containers and bottles. It is important to note that this is an outstanding example, as not all bioplastics are recyclable.

Of the many bioplastic varieties currently on the market or in development, no variant has attracted more attention than those dubbed “biodegradable.” Biodegradable bioplastics, like increasingly popular PLA (polylactic acid), are exactly as they sound: in theory, they break down naturally in the environment or may be composted. This is unique, as the vast majority of plastics today will never break down. Petroleum plastics may degrade into smaller and smaller pieces, but most won’t decompose or be absorbed by the surrounding environment.

Where bioplastics theoretically are an answer to our dependence on fossil fuels to manufacture the plastics the world demands, biodegradable bioplastics are meant to be a solution for the world’s plastic waste problem. However, in most cases, biodegradable bioplastics will only break down in a high-temperature industrial composting facility, not your average household compost bin. Plus, these are not recyclable.

This wouldn’t be as much of a concern if we had a great composting infrastructure, but we don’t. With only about 200 industrial composting facilities in the United States and 50 million tons of organic waste still ending up in landfills across the country each year, we are ill-equipped to adequately compost any meaningful volumes of biodegradable plastic. In fact, many operational industrial composting facilities today won’t even accept PLA and other biodegradable plastics—they are seen as contamination risks.

A better solution might be to place the focus on durable bioplastics that are made from plant materials, but can still be recycled. This way, the valuable energy and material inputs can be kept in the production cycle longer. It also makes far more sense to build a bio-based plastic that fits into our existing infrastructure, rather than building an entirely new biodegradable plastic composting infrastructure from scratch.

If we hope to truly make durable bioplastics as viable as they could be, we will need to start curbing the demand for plastics overall. With less demand, the market will be in a far better place to meet demand with more contained impacts to the environment. How do we reduce the demand for plastic? When manufacturers and major brands commit to packaging designs that are more durable and made to last, consumers have the opportunity to make more sustainable purchasing decisions.


Author Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, writes blogs for Treehugger and Triple Pundit, published a book called “Make Garbage Great” and is the star of the television show “Human Resources.”



Learn what it takes to innovate in the packaging space at EastPack 2017 (June 13-15; New York City). Register today!

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10 candy trends and delicious packaging that shows them off

Think candy sells itself? Think again. Like any highly competitive and crowded retail category, candy leverages packaging to entice the eyes and get the grab.

The recent 2017 Sweets and Snacks Expo showcased packaging innovations, new products, industry developments and noteworthy trends, which we present here.

Organized by the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA) and held May 23-25, the event overfilled the West Building of Chicago’s McCormick Place, with an estimated 17,000 attendees visiting more than 800 vendors spanning 4 acres of products and technology exhibits.

Here are some interesting facts to chew on, courtesy of the NCA:

• Most Americans treat themselves to candy two or three times a week—averaging 40 calories a day.
• Candy is big business—confectionery items account for $35 billion in retail sales—that includes $2 billion in exports, and a hefty $7 billion in seasonal sales.
• The industry employs 55,000 people in the U.S. directly—extend that to packaging, agriculture, retail, transportation and other fields, and candy accounts for more than 400,000 U.S. jobs.

Scroll through the following pages and see some highlights from this year’s Sweets and Snacks spectacular.

Photo credit: National Confectioners Assn.


Page 1: Candy giants bite into healthful snacking

Page 2: Does your retail-ready packaging stack up?

Page 3: Innovative snack packaging can grab customers

Page 4: Mentos takes a fresh approach to reclosable packs

Page 5: Artist finds sweet inspiration in candy wrappers

Page 6: Health-focused front-of-pack messaging picks up

Page 7: Multi-unit packaging carries candy to new places

Page 8: Snack pouches pop onto shelves with an artistic flair

Page 9: Jelly Belly launches fresh-baked branded packaging

Page 10: Gum brand packaging features a familiar feel


1. Candy giants bite into healthful snacking

Many health-conscious Americans are counting their calories—it turns out the candy and snacks industry is prepared to help their efforts. Prior to this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo, the NCA announced a joint plan to aid consumers in boosting their health and efforts to make better snacking choices. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants Mars, Wrigley, Nestle, Ferrero, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Russell Stover and Ferrara Candy Co. signed onto initiative, announced at a May 11 meeting in Washington, D.C. The commitment includes:

• By 2022, 50% of the individually wrapped products made by the participating companies will come in sizes containing 200 calories or less per pack.
• Within the next five years, 90% of the companies’ best-selling treats will have calorie information on the pack front.
• Also over the next five years, the website will grow and share resources for consumers to better fit candy and snacks into their healthy lifestyles.

The organizations, with the help of Partnership for a Healthier America, plans to monitor and share progress with the rest of the industry.

Photo credit: Jenni Spinner

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5 new products that boost packaging performance

Uptime is more than the absence of downtime: It is how well your packaging line is running, which is contingent on how efficient each system in the line is operating. Here are four pieces of packaging equipment that improve their efficiency to help give your entire production line a boost.

Performance improvements apply to packages, as well as to packaging equipment. So we also present one new child-resistant closure design that enhances ease of use without sacrificing safety.

You can see these five new products in person at EastPack 2017 (June 13-15; New York City) during the Innovations in Packaging Performance tour on Wed., June 14, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. We’ll meet a few minutes before 2:00 p.m. in Booth 341 before embarking on our 1-hour circuit. I’ll be your tour guide, and will talk as we walk about how these performance improvements fit into overall packaging production trends. Come join us! Tour attendees will vote at the end of our trek on which new product will earn the 2017 EastPack Innovation Award.

We present the new developments here in alphabetical order by company name.

Page 1. Dartronics Inc.: Melt-and-dispense glue system efficiently seals packages

Page 2. EAM-Mosca Corp.: Strapping system uses ultrasonic sealing to secure pallet loads

Page 3. Keyence Corp.: Inkjet printer increases efficiency with auto-clean function

Page 4. The Plastek Group: Child-resistant closure performs for laundry pods

Page 5. Universal Robots USA Inc.: New 2.5D cobot packaging application shows performance flexibility


Melt-and-dispense glue system efficiently seals packages

A new compact design of the Graco InvisiPac HM25c Tank-Free hot melt application system integrates easily into existing packaging lines. The benefit of this on-demand system is the elimination of adhesive char and the inevitable downtime for maintenance.

Graco InvisiPac uses melting chambers that have a greater melting surface area versus the typical tank-based systems or reservoirs with melting fins. This means the equipment can melt the adhesive fast and dispense it immediately so waxes in the adhesive don’t evaporate, which saves on material costs. And since the adhesive doesn’t sit in a tank and char, frequent downtime for cleaning out plugged up nozzles is a thing of the past. According to the manufacturer’s distributor Dartronics, which will be showing this system at EastPack 2017, operators using InvisiPac hot melt systems can go over a year or more without changing settings or even touching the system, depending on the application.

Additionally, the InvisiPac HM25c is equipped with LineSite remote monitoring, so production managers can receive real-time performance reports and notifications to make sure their packaging lines keep producing.

Dartronics Inc., EastPack 2017 Booth 2821


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