Plants are the primary source ingredient for an incredible and growing variety of consumer products and packaging. What makes biomass such an important and environmentally-sound step toward a better future?
With the help of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide in the air, biomass is generally grown on farms or plantations. After it matures and is harvested, more can be grown through natural, biological processes, ensuring that when managed appropriately the biomass is not permanently depleted. By sourcing more products from plants, we take the first step toward a more efficient, circular economy that works with nature.
Properly managed biomass is a sustainable resource. Does that mean that every product made from renewable biomass is therefore a “sustainable product”? In fact, there is no standard definition of sustainable products. Several factors influence environmental sustainability – the composition of a product, how it is sourced, and what happens when the product reaches the end of its life. All of these factors must be considered, but starting with a renewable resource like biomass is an excellent first step toward improving sustainability.
Reduces burden on recycling
Recycling is a cornerstone of good environmentalism, and PBPC is a dedicated supporter of the practice, recognizing that many products, including some plant-based products, can and should be recycled.
Yet, recycling alone is not enough. The world produces over 250 million tons of plastic each year and only 5 – 9% of plastic is recycled.
Further, many “recyclable”
products are not recycled once they reach the point of separation and processing due to contamination by food waste. This is especially true of food packaging.
The versatility of plant-based products allows for each product to be specifically designed with an optimal end-of-life option in mind. For instance, many plant-based packaging and products are designed to be compostable. Composting these materials
can reduce the burden on waste management, eliminate concerns about food contamination in the recycling stream, and ensure that instead of becoming landfill the waste is put to a better use – as soil-enriching compost.
Compost increases the sustainability factor, by creating circular economic and material streams
One factor in determining sustainability is a product’s end of life. Products that are composted ensure a sustainable end of life cycle. Composted plant-based biomass provides nutrients and water-holding capacity to improve soil health, contributing further to sustainable agricultural production. Composting closes the loop on the sustainable, environmentally-friendly cycle creating a circular economy, sometimes known as a circular material stream. For a full infographic and more information on the compost process, visit our information page
Reduced C02 emissions
Using plants as the building blocks for materials and chemicals converts carbon in the atmosphere into both an economic value and an environmental benefit. Harnessing these renewable resources to replace conventional chemicals and plastics can reduce cradle-to-grave greenhouse gas emissions anywhere from 47-86%, according to the results of an Argonne National Laboratory study.2
Some plant-based materials offer superior performance attributes. For example, a joint Archer Daniels Midland and DuPont Industrial Biosciences venture developed a renewable material made from fructose derived from corn starch. A host of industrial plastics can be made from this platform, including a 100-percent renewable and recyclable polymer known as polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF). PTF offers improved gas-barrier properties that increase shelf life and also lighten the weight of products in the beverage packaging industry. As a result, these renewable, sustainable materials could also reduce fuel consumption and transportation costs, benefits that extend far into the global supply chain.
And, there is more to come. Across the renewable products value chain improvements in agricultural efficiency, technological innovation, and environmental best practices continue apace – all of which are foundational for advancing global sustainability and further reducing emissions associated with production.
Millennials are the largest American generation and entering their prime spending years. An August 2018 survey concerning bioplastics found:
- All segments of the Millennial population (Democrats, Republicans, Gen Z, lower-income Millennials, etc.) are supportive of bioplastics and willing to pay more for them.
- Millennials feel most guilty about their own plastic use (48%) compared to other resources, such as paper (33%), water (31%) or the amount they drive (19%).
- 64% of Millennials are willing to use alternatives to plastic, 60% are surprised by the lack of options to plastic.
- Yet, only 13% are “very familiar” with bioplastic.
- But once bioplastics are described, 90% become favorable to bioplastics, a statistic that crossed party affiliation, racial self-identification, income groups and the urban/rural divide.
- As a result, significant majorities of Millennials are willing to:
- Pay more for bioplastic utensils;
- Pay more for organic food in bioplastic packaging; and
- Are more willing to visit a fast-food restaurant that uses compostable packaging.
To advance environmental benefits, some of the biggest and most influential names in business have publicly announced packaging sustainability goals, including: