Plastic is a problem for the environment and the planet's health. As a result, universities and businesses are increasingly developing food packaging materials that break down faster, with no harmful residues, and that do not use petroleum. The first products are ready for practical use, like bio-degradable foil made of polylactic acid or grass paper.
Polylactic acid is produced with the help of lactic acid bacteria, for example, from corn starch and is biodegradable. It can be used to make foils, cups and bowls. Such plastics from renewable raw materials have a significantly better climatic impact than petroleum-based plastic, as corn, wheat or sugar cane will extract carbon dioxide from the air for their growth. Even though "plant plastic" is still in its infancy and comparatively expensive, experts see great prospects.
The use of residues such as maize straw or scraps of food would be particularly sustainable, as in that case no arable land is needed for the cultivation of renewable raw materials and no forest needs to be cleared for cultivation. Let's give an example: A biopolymer from milk protein casein, which is obtained from raw milk that is no longer marketable, is already ready for practical use.
Packaging specialists are also experimenting with algae, coconut fibers, tomato plants, banana stems, sawdust and cotton waste to develop novel boxes and trays for food. Grass paper has been in use successfully for some time and consists of up to 60 percent grass instead of wood.
For products such as cornflakes or chips, which are to be protected against moisture, the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering is currently developing barrier layers based on whey proteins. It also experiments with algae and tomato peel coatings to replace the aluminum layer, which often keeps packaged food dry. Reduced-plastic packaging, some of which has been replaced by natural materials such as chalk or talc, is already on the market, for example yoghurt pots made of polypropylene with talc.
It is clear that the best plastic waste is the one that does not even come up. Consumers can avoid unnecessary packaging and reusable packaging for many products. The second-best solution against the flood of plastic is high-quality recycling. However, business and consumers are waiting for better packaging design, the elimination of poorly recyclable packaging and improved sorting techniques at recycling yards.