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PLA Clear Biodegradable Food Packaging

Clear PLA Packaging for the Food Industry

You may have already heard that there are bio-degradable alternatives to conventional plastic and polystyrene packaging options for food. However, until recently there has been a major cost barrier to implementing these technologies.  We’d all like to ‘go green’, but if it means the difference between being able to pay wages this month or not, it’s often more feasible to stick with the old than bring in the new.

PLA Packaging – Affordable, Transparent Packaging

One of the biggest concerns with bio packaging is that it cannot (or rather could not) be made transparent, which makes it unsuitable for cold drinks, the lids of salad containers, and other areas where you need to showcase food in a bio-degradable container.

Fortunately, a new material called Poly-Lactic Acid enables biodegradable materials to be fashioned into materials that have the transparency and other properties of clear plastics.  There are still some drawbacks, for example a low heat tolerance, but this material is still suitable for all of the uses you would normally put plastic to.

What is PLA Packaging?

PLA is made from corn starch and other basic sugars, and is produced in a very similar way to normal plastics (by creating a polymer chain of peptides).  However, the major differences are:

  • The energy and cost of producing PLA have now fallen below the cost of creating plastics, making them a viable, cost-effective alternative
  • PLA packaging bio degrades in between 30 and 90 days once exposed to composting conditions, making it 100% environmentally friendly.

The major disadvantage, as mentioned above, is that it is unable to tolerate temperatures in excess of 40 degrees C, and it is also unsuitable for very cold temperatures found in industrial freezers.  This is less of a limitation than it would appear, as clear plastics have not traditionally been used in these conditions either.

Why Isn’t Everyone Using PLA Then?

The simple reason is that PLA packaging has only recently passed the cost effectiveness of plastics.  Until the last few years, it was always more expensive than plastic alternatives.  This made it feasible for business canteens, where the company was interested in investing in green marketing.  However, it was not a viable alternative for food distribution businesses and fast food outlets.

Recent advances have brought down the cost of PLA packaging to the point where it is cost-comparable with petro-chemical based products.  It is now only a question of raising corporate awareness of PLA as an alternative.

Considering that millions of tons of plastic are dumped on our landfills every year, and that none of this plastic is going to go anywhere for hundreds of years, you have to ask yourself: can your business afford to ignore PLA packaging?