Home » Sustainable Packaging » How Plant-Based Packaging Can Solve the Plastic Crisis

Plastic packaging is creating environmental and human health crises. With its plant-based alternative, material science company Footprint makes breakthrough packaging that’s better for the planet and people.

Plastics have long been the preferred packaging material for many of the goods we buy — especially foods and beverages. Yet only about 5 percent of plastics used actually get recycled.

“Most Americans think when you put anything plastic into the blue recycling bin, some very high percentage will get recycled,” said Susan Koehler, Footprint’s chief marketing officer. “That is a big myth — unfortunately most packaging doesn’t actually get recycled.” 

The other 95 percent goes into landfills, oceans, and other ecosystems, hurting the planet and its wildlife. There’s a human cost of plastic packaging, too: research suggests that, when heated or scratched, plastics can leach chemicals into foods, causing cancer and other diseases.

Footprint is helping to further reduce the need for single-use plastics with its patented plant-fiber-based packaging. The packaging is compostable, and it eliminates the risk of harmful chemicals leaching into our foods.

“Footprint solutions perform like plastic, but are digestible by the Earth,” Koehler said. “They’re made of compostable, recyclable, bio-based plant fibers.”

Additionally, Koehler says the cost of Footprint’s packaging is comparable to that of virgin, single-use plastics, which have become ubiquitous because they’re cheap to make and use.

“At the volumes of most of our customers, we’re at virtual parity pricing, so swapping out new, plant-based materials solutions that are healthier for people and the planet can now be part of mainstream offerings from any brand. Consumers are demanding it, and companies moving quickly are being rewarded,” she said.

Business sense

Consumers want to support brands that work to improve the health of the Earth and humans. In its April 2021 report, “Regenerative Rising: Sustainability Futures,” Wunderman Thompson Intelligence found that 83 percent of people in the United States, the United Kingdom, and China thought that companies need to focus on making a positive impact on the planet and its people, rather than just not doing harm.

“People are crying out for leadership,” said Marie Stafford, global director of Wunderman Thompson. “There’s kind of this growing consciousness that we need brands to do more.”

With real rewards out there for businesses that adopt sustainable practices, some of the world’s largest corporations are making wholesale changes for the better. For example, McDonald’sProcter & Gamble, and Unilever have all set goals to use 100 percent recyclable, reusable, and/or compostable packaging for consumer goods by 2025.

“There’s starting to be a shift; sustainability used to be seen as a burden, a cost to the business,” Stafford said. “Gradually, people are starting to realize that it’s actually an opportunity. This is what people are looking for, this is what investors are looking for. It makes your business more resilient.”

Another company striving to reduce its carbon footprint is Conagra, which partnered with Footprint to replace the plastic bowls used for some of its foods with a first-of-its-kind plant-based bowl.

The plant-fiber bowls are used in Conagra’s Healthy Choice Power Bowls, Hungry-Man Double Meat Bowls, and P.F. Chang’s Ramen single-serve meals. The new bowls are microwave-safe, non-stick, and cooler to the touch than traditional plastic bowls, and leave a 50-70 percent smaller carbon footprint.

Being heard

As a consumer, one of the most effective things you can do to enact change is to vote with your wallet; research which companies are striving to use more recyclable, reusable, and compostable materials, and support them.

“The consumer has a lot of power,” Koehler said.

One thing you can do is buy products that carry the Footprint logo, which means they use Footprint’s plant-based packaging instead of plastics. You can also join Footprint in its Pledge 2050 campaign at pledge2050.org, and commit to giving up a source of single-use plastics — whether it’s utensils, bags, bottles, or straws.

To learn more about Footprint and its sustainable scientific endeavors, visit footprintus.com.

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