The Future of Polylactic Acid (PLA) Based Packaging Systems
Increasingly, the modern business world is being driven by the need to reduce its environmental footprint while also controlling costs. Fortunately, it is possible to achieve both goals, as the increasing popularity of Polylactic Acid (PLA) Packaging technology demonstrates.
PLA in Packaging Compared to Polystyrene Packaging Materials:
Traditional packaging uses polystyrene packaging materials, which are usually injection-formed or molded into a variety of shapes to effectively serve as packaging materials. While traditional, this form of packaging suffers from a number of defects that are becoming increasingly troublesome in the modern era.
Polystyrene is a petroleum-based material widely used in a variety of packaging roles. While tremendously popular in the past, this dependence on petrochemicals also exposes polystyrene materials to price fluctuations brought on by an increasingly unstable petroleum market. In fact, should long-term price increases continue, one of polystyrene’s main advantages, its low cost compared to other materials, will be lost. Additionally, the process of petroleum extraction adds to polystyrene’s environmental impact.
Secondly, polystyrene is non-biodegradable and thus must be either disposed of in landfills or broken down by expensive processes. Due to the toxic nature of polystyrene byproducts, the growing amount of polystyrene wastes is having an increasingly detrimental impact on the environment. Most importantly, polystyrene packaging can endanger animals as well as potentially contaminate water supplies by the release of chemicals from the material. This has resulted in many nations passing regulations regarding the disposal and processing of polystyrene, further increasing its expense.
PLA Packaging Materials:
In contrast, Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) in packaging has a number of advantages over polystyrene. First of all, unlike polystyrene, poly lactic acid packaging is produced from cornstarch- and sugarcane-based materials. Because they are produced by processing plant byproducts, PLA based packaging is unlikely to face the market-based price fluctuations that polystyrene-based materials must endure. In addition, due to the large amount of available farmland, expanding the supply of a sustainable packaging material like PLA will be quite simple.
Additionally, PLA packaging is far more environmentally friendly than polystyrene. PLA-based materials are naturally biodegradable and can be easily composted, eliminating the danger to animals and the water table. PLA can also be easily recycled, allowing the same materials to be reused as a sustainable packaging material and further reducing the need for new production and the associated environmental and financial costs.
Finally, because PLA is not produced from petrochemical-derived materials, its impact on CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions is drastically lower than polystyrene. Especially in nations that have greenhouse gas reduction regulations, PLA is a vastly more attractive material than polystyrene-based packaging materials.
PLA and Public Relations:
Transitioning to PLA packaging materials will become increasingly important as governments, other businesses, and the public become more concerned with environmentally friendly policies. By using PLA packaging, your company can tout the benefits to the community and the environment, in addition to the cost benefits passed on to the consumer.
Additionally, as environmental regulations continue to become stricter, PLA-based packaging is less likely to face expensive regulations or outright bans. Businesses using PLA packaging will thus be able to continue to access all of their markets.
Is the switch to PLA packaging the right step for your business? PLA packaging has tremendous advantages over polystyrene materials in terms of its cost, environmental impact, and availability. It is extremely likely that PLA packaging will continue to increase in importance, eventually displacing polystyrene-based materials for most packaging applications. For this reason, businesses should carefully consider shifting to PLA-based packaging as soon as possible to take advantage of the many benefits of this packaging material.
Jeff Giedt is vice president and general manager of Pioneer Packaging in Phoenix, AZ. Pioneer Packaging is a division of the Heritage Pioneer Corporate Group, a leading distributor of corrugated boxes, packaging materials and equipment, with 16 locations across the western United States.