When scientists first developed plastic, the material was lauded for its durability and many uses. It revolutionized and drastically improved the healthcare industry. It made vehicles safer and more fuel-efficient.
But the very thing that earned plastic so much praise—its durability—started to pose questions of concern. By the 1960s, researchers started to worry that the fact that plastic doesn’t break down like organic matter would be a major problem for landfills and ocean pollution.
By the 1980s, scientists offered a new solution: Biodegradable plastic.
Less than 9 percent of plastic gets recycled. What’s more? Each year, it’s estimated that more than 10 million tons of plastic is thrown into the oceans—more than a garbage truckload every minute. With these kinds of chilling statistics, more and more eCommerce brands are looking to biodegradable packaging. Is this a viable solution for reducing plastic consumption?
About Biodegradable Packaging Solutions
Biodegradable packaging is a specific kind of packaging made from biodegradable materials. Materials that are biodegradable have the following characteristics:
- They are made from renewable resources
- Or, they can be harvested directly from nature
- They completely decompose when composted with the aid of microorganisms processing and breaking down the materials on a cellular level.
Biodegradable packaging, like biodiesel fuel, is plant-based, and while the largest producer of biodegradable packaging is made from polylactic acid (PLA), a resin sourced from cornstarch, other companies throughout the world are finding new ways to create biodegradable packaging from materials like:
Until very recently, there were no set rules or regulations for manufacturers to call their products biodegradable. This meant that many manufacturers were calling plastics and other products like laundry detergents biodegradable when they weren’t. Biodegradable products do not have any harmful chemicals. They also do not have plastic coatings or require excessive energy for creation.
There are many kinds of biodegradable packaging products on the market today, which include:
- Paper and cardboard
- Cornstarch and PLA plastic
- Degradable bubble wrap
- Biodegradable plastic bubble mailers, bags, and sleeves
Some Biodegradable Plastics Don’t Ship or Store Well
Depending on the temperature of a fulfillment center warehouse, or delivery truck, or how much a biodegradable plastic package is jostled and dinged, it may not hold up well throughout the fulfillment process, leading to damaged products and dissatisfied customers.
Cons: The Challenges of Biodegradable Packaging
Reinforcing a Single-Use Mindset
Biodegradable plastic packaging looks very much like regular plastic. You use it once, then dispose of it, reinforcing the usage of single-use packaging and encouraging excess waste production. While it’s an improvement over regular plastic packaging, it still isn’t as sustainable as it could be and can create a negative mindset that biodegradable plastics are the best (or the only) solution for environmental issues. It becomes easy to ignore more sustainable practices like low-waste or zero-waste living, recycling, or using organic materials.
Biodegradable plastic packaging may be a good solution for some retailers and certain uses, but it is often more expensive than traditional plastic. It can be hard for retailers to absorb these costs, forcing them to pass these costs onto consumers. However, there may be some hope here: According to one study, 43 percent of polled consumers would pay more for beauty products if they knew the packaging was environmentally friendly.
Not All Bioplastics Are Created Equal
Plant-based plastics should all be biodegradable, but not all of them really are. Some of these bio-plastics just break down into smaller and smaller pieces, forming microplastics that plague waterways, aquatic life, and soils. These ineffective “biodegradables” might even be more harmful than regular plastic because they are harder to clean from our lands and bodies of water. Some can be composted—but only at industrial composting facilities, not backyard compost piles.
Pros: What’s Great About Biodegradable Packaging
Decreases Waste Sent to Landfills or Incinerators
When we throw plastic in the trash, it winds up in landfills where it sits, unchanged for hundreds of years. Or worse? Plastic sent to incinerators releases harmful chemicals into the air. Biodegradable plastic breaks down on its own in landfills without burning.
It Requires Less Energy to Manufacture
Producing biodegradable plastics takes less energy than traditional plastics, using fewer fossil fuels and creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
It Releases Fewer Toxic Chemicals
Traditional plastics can leach harmful substances into the environment when they finally break down. Well-made biodegradable plastics don’t do this; they release water, carbon dioxide, and biomass, or leftover plant material.
Not All Biodegradable Packaging Is Biodegradable Plastic
Online retailers and eCommerce beauty and wellness brands should remember one thing: It’s not just biodegradable plastic that degrades. Other materials like cardboard corrugate, recycled paper, and bamboo are all eco-friendly alternatives that are affordable, sustainable, and make excellent shipping and packaging options.
Appeal to Eco-Minded Consumers
Environmentally-minded consumers are conscious about the products they bring into their homes. With the right biodegradable packaging options and sustainable fulfillment practices, eCommerce brands can build a commitment for eco-friendly, sustainable products and practices into their brand story, appealing to a widening portion of the market looking for products they can feel good about buying.
OceanX: Your Ally in Sustainable Fulfillment
The option of biodegradable plastic packaging is a choice that online beauty and wellness retailers must make themselves. It’s worth consideration for sure, but there may also be even better alternatives available.
At OceanX, we are committed to environmentally-friendly packaging and processes in all of our fulfillment centers. For beauty and wellness brands looking for ways to improve their sustainability practices, our facilities are geared towards protecting the environment and helping those in the industry do the same. We do things like:
- Use electric forklifts to cut down on fossil fuel usage
- Partner with companies to safely recycle or dispose of expired products
- Share real-time inventory reporting to prevent over-ordering
- Use multiple fulfillment centers and smart order routing to reduce transit emissions
We even power one of our fulfillment centers using solar energy!
OceanX will be your partner in sustainable fulfillment, offering strategies to reduce packaging waste, avoid shipping inefficiencies, and choose packaging materials that make sense for your brand, your sustainability goals, your product needs, and your bottom line. Environmentally-friendly packaging and fulfillment can be efficient and affordable. We can show you how. To discover how we may help you, connect with our team of experts today.