Plant-based products are made from materials derived from renewable feedstocks that can serve a wide range of consumer and industrial roles. These products are alternatives, and sometimes drop-in replacements, to traditional products and materials derived from fossil-fuel bases.
From the use of plants as renewable feedstocks to varied and useful end-of-life options, the entire family of plant-based materials can help us address key environmental imperatives facing our planet.
America is facing a waste management crisis. The U.S. generates over 292 million tons of municipal solid waste each year, over 35 million tons of which is food waste that is sent to landfills.
It is estimated that over 33 million tons of plastic is added to landfills across the country each year. More than half of all traditional plastic resins used in packaging could be replaced by plant-based alternatives.
Plant-based products present a clear opportunity to address waste management challenges and help ensure a more sustainable planet. These materials can help reduce landfill waste because they offer a wide range of disposal opportunities, such as recyclability and compostability, while some are even biodegradable.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The growth of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere is one of the biggest environmental imperatives we face today. Traditional plastics are made using fossil fuels that further contribute greenhouse gas emissions to our ecosystem. Plant-based alternatives can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions because they come from a renewable source of carbon and can avoid contributing to landfill emissions when properly disposed of.
Unlike materials derived from fossil fuels, feedstocks from plant-based materials remove CO2 from the atmosphere during their growing phase. The CO2 taken up by plants during their growing phase is used to build these plant-based products and sequestered in their materials during their time as a useful consumer product.
Healthy soil is the foundation of food, fuel, fiber, and all industries reliant on traditionally abundant renewable biomass that is tied to America’s past, present, and future success. Unfortunately, our soil is losing its nutrients, structure, and organic matter, all of which are harmful to the agriculture community, plants, the environment, and even our water.
Compostable plant-based materials represent a powerful tool to improve the health of soil. When used in food packaging and service ware, these compostable materials have the ability to increase the total amount of compost generated from not only their mass, but also the mass of accompanying food waste disposed of with them.
Water quality continues to decline in our environment. Plastic litter is increasing in our oceans, causing harm to our marine life and water quality. It’s even estimated that plastic in the ocean is set to outweigh fish by 2050.
Additionally, excessive nutrient run-off from land consumes oxygen coming out of important coastal waters, and with sixty- five percent of U.S. estuaries and coastal waters being degraded by excessive nutrient inputs, our waters are suffering.
Litter and nutrient runoff are two of the greatest threats facing our oceans and waterways. Plant-based alternatives to traditional plastics, paired with improved collection infrastructure, can improve water quality by preventing more litter from ending up in bodies of water and averting the runoff of nutrients from getting into our susceptible bodies of water.