What's That Trend? The Top 8 Biodegradable Packaging Trends to Come

Every year, 78 million tons of plastic packaging takes up residence on our planet, most of which will never fully decompose. At least 32% of it ends up funneling into the ocean, caught up in gyres nicknamed "garbage patches."

The disposable mindset is a worldwide problem.

Thai fishermen used to wrap their lunch in banana leaves. Now they use plastic wrap. Specialty fruits in Japan and Korea are wrapped individually in plastic film and cushioned with plastic foam mesh.

But consumers are calling for change. With a growing emphasis on sustainability, biodegradable packaging continues to evolve. Here are eight packaging trends on the horizon.

1. High Tech Solutions

As certain technologies become more mainstream, people are turning to tech to find packaging answers. Why not make use of the new to solve age-old problems?

The increasing reliability of 3D printing might change packaging for good. The printers allow manufacturers to make instant prototypes of custom containers. With the process streamlined, producing no-waste packaging is a more attainable goal.

There's also the proliferation of things like QR codes and digital packaging. Instead of printing information on products, the codes direct consumers to access it online.

2. New Materials

Scientists are at work inventing new biodegradable packaging materials to take the place of plastics.

New polymers and polymer additives are making it easier to break down single-use plastics for recycling. Polymers developed from corn, lactic acid, and other plant sources are taking the place of some petroleum-based compounds.

Biodegradable film is in testing. If successful, it could take the place of blister packages and other flexible materials like chip bags and applesauce pouches. Because they're made up of many laminated layers of plastic, recycling them isn't cost-effective.

3. Compost

Giving consumers the ability to deal with their own trash will be key in tackling the larger problem. At-home composting is growing in popularity, and so is compostable packaging.

Some restaurants now offer food containers made out of potato and corn resin, which can go in the compost bin along with food scraps. Some biodegradable cosmetic packaging contains wildflower seeds. This promotes planting the waste instead of throwing it away.

On a larger scale, sugarcane-based polyethylene will break down into compost that's usable for organic farming. In that way, food packaging can actually help produce more food.

4. Paper

As paper slows down in office usage to minimize waste, it increases in packaging with the same result.

The uses of paper are vast: cardboard boxes, biodegradable wrapping paper, paper bags, paper packing tape. Paper is also incorporated into other eco-friendly packaging as a strengthening agent.

Paper may be able to reduce the waste associated with bottled water, which can stick around for more than 1000 years. Convenience water sold in boxes like milk cartons is gaining popularity.

Water activated tape, made of paper, is as strong as plastic tape and fully biodegradable. Amazon has switched to paper tape, and other companies with robust shipping operations will follow suit.

5. Better Bags

As plastic bags are banned across the country and throughout the world, grocery stores look at sustainable solutions.

Paper bags have always been around and are easily recycled. More shoppers are taking on the responsibility of using reusable cloth or recycled plastic bags.

Biodegradable bags are also becoming a viable option. Replacing polyethylene with a cornstarch-based compound may reform the ubiquitous, maligned grocery bag.

6. Edible Wrappers

It would make sense if you could eat your food packaging, and that day may soon arrive. Single serving tubes and snacks like string cheese could be sealed in food-grade film.

Made out of casein, one of the proteins in milk, the clear film is edible and protects food even better than plastic wrap. It also dissolves in water.

Keeping the wrappers sterile throughout the manufacturing and shipping process is a bit of a hurdle. In the end, it doesn't matter if consumers decide to eat the packaging, as it will biodegrade even if it's thrown away.

7. Less Waste

Reducing packaging waste is the most effective way to keep it out of landfills. If there's nothing to throw away, there's nothing that needs to biodegrade.

Instead of standard boxes, companies are creating custom boxes for their product lines. This means slimmer boxes, smaller bags, and less packing material.

Because less material is used, products are also more lightweight. This reduces shipping costs and fuel-based carbon emissions.

Product containers are also reworked to maximize efficiency. Innovations like squared off bottles fit together and take up less space in warehouses and on store shelves.

8. Recyclables

It's not likely that the world at large will start using fewer products. It's also unlikely that everyone will be able to quickly adapt to eco-friendly packaging. In the meantime, it's important for recycling to become the standard.

The shift toward paper bags is a good start, but there are many other recyclable materials. Glass, metal, jute, cotton, and bamboo are recyclable containers. Soy ink and aqueous solvents take the place of petroleum-based inks and varnishes.

Something as simple as concise recycling instructions can go a long way in giving consumers confidence to recycle. Companies like Aldi print recycling notes on each package, detailing which elements can and cannot go in the recycling bin.

Some companies are dealing with the problem of ocean plastic head-on. They harvest plastic from the ocean and then recycle it into usable material.

Adidas has used ocean plastic to make shoes and jerseys. P&G packaged Head & Shoulders in recovered beach plastic. The method has been using ocean plastic for certain soap bottles since 2012.

It becomes a selling point because consumers have concerns about plastic waste and feel partially culpable.

The Future of Biodegradable Packaging Is Promising

From high tech solutions to reinventing the old standbys, biodegradable packaging is the future. Reducing plastic waste benefits every one of us. It's up to manufacturers and brands to offer packaging that combines beauty with sustainability.

Does your company need packaging solutions? With our creativity and cutting-edge design sense, we can create something to custom-fit your needs. Contact us to get the process started!