Alternatives to plastic packaging in food and drink


Plastic was invented a little over a century ago, but it has quickly become ubiquitous globally with 8.3 billion metric tons created since its invention, with much of that used in food and drink packaging. Currently, less than a third of food packaging is recycled in the UK, with three-quarters of waste ending up in landfill or the oceans causing massive damage to the environment.

This has made replacing and reducing plastic in packaging crucial to saving the planet. Clearmark has cast its expert eye over the alternatives to plastic in food and drinks packaging:

Bioplastic packaging

Bioplastics are made out of sustainable, natural sources such as corn starch, vegetable fats or food waste as opposed to petroleum. They are made by fermenting natural products to create natural polymers, known as PHA which can be used to create biodegradable plastic packaging materials.

Compostable packaging

Compostable packaging is made out of a natural material that can break down in any environment, friendly to the microbes it needs, for example, a common garden compost. Breakdown usually occurs within six months similar to normal garden waste.

  • Organic farmers Riverford are replacing all their single-use plastic packaging in their vegetable boxes with compostable packaging nets made from tree pulp, which compost within 12 weeks.

Biodegradable plastic packaging

Biodegradable plastic covers both bioplastics and plastics made from traditional petrochemicals that contain additives to increase their ability to decay. It can take years and extreme conditions for biodegradable plastics to break down and they don’t always break down into harmless substances like compostable packaging.

  • Biodegradable plastic bags have been one of the key innovations, however, research has shown that these have not broken down after three years in a natural environment, raising question marks to their suitability in replacing plastic.

Reducing and reusing plastic packaging 

Perhaps the simplest way of reducing plastic waste is by decreasing the amount of plastic used, removing it entirely or making the packaging reusable.

Why do companies still use plastic packaging?

Despite a number of seemingly great plastic alternatives, uptake of these has been low,with nearly 30% of supermarket packaging not being widely recyclable. We take a look at the reasons why many businesses are currently sticking with unrecyclable plastic packaging:

  • Recycling infrastructure – There are widespread discrepancies in recycling infrastructure nationally which means that although many products are technically recyclable, they may still end up in landfill, which can make recyclable plastic unattractive to businesses.
  • Functionality – Plastic is usually thinner than its bioplastic counterparts making it better suited to some packaging such as flow wrapped products, like crisps.
  • Benefits – Plastic has many positive qualities, such as price, convenience, flexibility, water-resistance, ease of producing and compatibility with other products, which makes replacing it a difficult task.
  • Importance of packaging – Packaging does still serve an important function in protecting the product during transportation.
  • Price – Eco-friendly alternatives are usually more expensive than plastic.

Whilst there is no doubt a growing trend towards more eco-friendly packaging, there are limitations preventing more widespread uptake. In part, this can be explained by the many qualities of plastic packaging which business owners may still feel outweigh the eco-alternatives. This has meant despite alternatives such as bioplastic and compostable packaging being developed EU wide recycling is only at 30%.

Clearmark would like to help counter this, which is why we are offering a free print sample service to test your code on any new green packaging or substrate to see if this can give the desired print results.

Trialling plastic-alternative packaging?  Request a free print sample today.

Or get in touch: 01159 640144,