AsianScientist (Feb. 9, 2023) – From smartphone cases to wrapping paper and face masks, plastics have become an inseparable and integral part of our daily lives. However, the very feature that makes plastics so attractive also causes difficulties when it comes to disposal and recycling: their durability.
The raw figures are alarming. Global plastic waste generation more than doubled from 2000 to 2019 to 353 million tons, with only a mere nine percent of it recycled. Of that mountain of waste, around 40 percent came from packaging materials like plastic films or containers—used once and then discarded.
Around the world, companies at the forefront of innovation are redesigning products for enhanced sustainability and transforming their business models to move from single-use plastics to reusable plastic products. In this feature, we highlight three Singaporean companies that are leading the way to solve the plastic waste challenge with innovative, eco-friendly packaging alternatives.
When less is more
A substantial proportion of single-use plastic packaging is difficult and costly to recycle. Conventional packaging is typically made of thin layers of different materials to protect the content it holds, which complicates the recycling process. On top of that, most do not do a good job at keeping food fresh.
Killing two birds with one stone, Aegis Packaging has collaborated with multiple stakeholders to address these challenges. The company has developed a novel coating that can effectively prevent oxygen and moisture from seeping into the packaging, keeping food fresh for a longer period. Because of this, only one type of plastic is required to make the packaging, which eases its recyclability.
“Innovation is always at the heart of what we do at Aegis Packaging. Our in-house R&D team constantly churns out new packaging products for the fast-moving consumer goods industry,” said Ong Kai Liang, Business Developer of Aegis Packaging. “We also collaborate with local research institutions to strengthen our technological know-how.”
With its two-pronged approach aimed at reducing waste, Aegis Packaging is already applying its innovation in the dry food industry and aims to extend the benefits of its coating to medical and personal care products and beyond.
Upcycling waste into products
Apart from improving the recyclability of plastics, another solution is to use fewer plastics in the first instance. However, searching for a replacement that matches the properties of plastics is difficult.
Not one to walk away from a challenge, Alterpacks has successfully transformed food waste that would otherwise have ended up in landfills into usable products that could substitute single-use plastics. By converting brewers’ spent grains—a waste by-product of the beer-brewing industry—into reusable and biodegradable food containers, Alterpacks addresses both the growing issues of food waste and plastic pollution.
“Since the beginning, we have adopted circular design principles such as reuse and recycle in our approach to the challenges we face,” explained Karen Cheah, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Alterpacks. “Our technology has the potential to upcycle low value brewers’ spent grains to meet one-third of packaging needs.”
When prompted to elaborate on future innovation plans, Alterpacks shared that it will be investigating other forms of agricultural waste to expand its raw material base, making way for a wider variety of packaging products.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, tainting pristine seas and threatening aquatic life. Distraught by this sight, avid scuba diver Prakruti Kodali co-founded pFIBRE with Dinaz Zenobia Tamboli to develop 100% marine-biodegradable packaging films made from plant-based ingredients.
From identifying raw materials with the desired properties and shelf life to ensuring the environmental safety of the biodegradable packaging film, pFIBRE had to overcome many hurdles during its innovation process. After much trial and error, pFIBRE finally cracked the code and designed packaging films that can completely disintegrate in natural conditions without releasing substances harmful to marine life.
“Our packaging films are the only products in the market today with a carbon footprint of almost zero and at a fraction of the cost compared to other alternatives with similar properties,” shared Kodali. “We are striving to become carbon negative in the next few months, where we remove more carbon from the atmosphere than we emit.”
With a range of packaging films today, pFIBRE continues to innovate to increase the shelf life of its films with coatings that improve barrier properties. Edible packaging films are also on the company’s radar, which could greatly reduce plastic packaging in common food items such as instant noodles.
Working together with consumers, research bodies and industry, innovative companies in the packaging sector such as Aegis Packaging, Alterpacks and pFIBRE play a crucial role in reducing our reliance on plastics for a more sustainable future.
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