Biodegradation happens when bacteria, fungi, and other biological organisms break down a complex material into simpler components.
When a food packaging material is biodegradable, it is not necessarily compostable, though some biodegradable materials become compostable once they are broken down into simpler components. The advantage of biodegradable materials over non-biodegradable ones is that they break down far more quickly under the right conditions.
Increased interest in food packaging sustainability has resulted in a greater focus on biodegradable packaging, and this type of food packaging is expected to grow in importance between now and 2023.
CAGR for Specialty, Biodegradable Films Strong
Specialty films (which include biodegradable films) are expected to have a 4.0% CAGR from 2018 through 2023, according to a new report by The Freedonia Group. Biodegradable films are expected to experience 5.4% CAGR during that same time period. Sixty-two percent of demand for biodegradable films is expected to be accounted for by food packaging. It is used in packaging for salad and produce, labels, twist wrap and candy wrappers, and biodegradable versions are expected to gain market share from conventional films in the coming years.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) Biodegradability
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a leader in packaging film and is expected to show strong growth through 2023. It has high clarity, can be printed on, is strong, retains “twist” and provides a strong flavor barrier. PLA is made of small units of lactic acid, which is an organic acid. Heat, humidity, and microbes are necessary for degradation, and PLA decays best in high-temperature environments that are rich in microbial life. Under ideal biodegradation conditions, which include a humid environment with a temperature of around 60oC, PLA shows signs of biodegradation in about six months.
Newer materials are being developed that can biodegrade with less disintegration required first. Depending on if and when they make it to market, they could gain some market share in the biodegradable plastic food packaging space in coming years.
Demand for Biodegradable Bags Expected to Grow Too
Biodegradable bags are also expected to see increasing demand through 2023. This demand will be driven by expansion of biodegradation infrastructure as well as government efforts to divert materials from landfills. Biodegradable bags can be used for collection of food scraps and other types of organic material so that these waste products can avoid going to landfills. Growth in the biodegradable bag space will depend to some degree on how well composting networks expand. Competition for biodegradable bags will also come from existing kraft paper bags.
Specialty films, in general, and biodegradable films, in particular, are expected to become more prominent in food packaging. The most rapid growth will be in the food packaging industry, but nonfood items like laundry detergent pods and orally disintegrating drug delivery strips will also use biodegradable films.
Demand for sustainability won’t be met with any single food packaging technology. But as private and government efforts to divert materials from landfills gain traction, multiple solutions – including biodegradable food packaging – will contribute to those efforts and sustainability-minded consumers will likely look for packaging options that can make a difference. PKG Brand Design is always on the forefront of new CPG branding and packaging initiatives; please subscribe to our blog for the latest package design industry news!