Rising oil costs and growing economies of scale in production will see plant-based plastics becoming more cost effective in future, according to market researcher Mintel, and this is expected to lead to greater uptake of these materials as a result.
In a recently broadcast webinar on the use of plant-based plastics in consumer packaging, Mintel global packaging analyst Benjamin Punchard highlighted that there has been very fast growth in capacity and production of both traditional biodegradable plant-based plastics (such as PLA) and plant-based conventional plastics (such as PET and PE), with the European Bioplastics Association predicting this growth to continue.
In addition to the potential cost benefits, Punchard highlighted that the raw material sources - such as wood, corn, and sugarcane - used in plant-based plastics are sustainable and that the processing benefits provided by these plastics can result in lower energy consumption and fewer CO2 emissions.
“Both of these benefits make plant-based plastic packaging particularly suitable for those brand owners who desire a strong environmentally positive positioning for the customers,” said Punchard.
Use of plant-based plastics in beauty and personal care on the rise
The use of plant-based plastics in beauty and personal care is on the rise, with many big-name brands including Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal and Shiseido choosing to go down this route.
P&G brand Pantene announced the production of a bio-HDPE shampoo and conditioner bottle in April 2011. It first launched the packaging in the US, where it partnered with Recyclebank for a quiz and reward points redeemable as discounts in order to educate consumers.
“Offering this kind of engagement is important to ensure that consumers fully understand how plant-based plastics differ from oil-based, particularly as many consumers perceive all plastic packaging as being in some way bad for the environment,” said Punchard.
Color cosmetics most popular category for PLA launches
As Punchard notes, the most common product category for launches of PLA packaging over the past year has been color cosmetics, with skin care making it into third place behind fruit and vegetables, and soap and bath products standing in seventh place.
Mintel highlighted the Cargo Plantlove eco-friendly range in the UK as an example of color cosmetics using PLA, with the material used to package lip gloss and lip gloss tubes, eye liner and bronzer compacts. It is common with PLA packaging for brands to only highlight the sustainable nature of the material rather than the biodegradable aspect, Punchard noted, attributing this to several possible factors.
These include consumer confusion over the terms compostable and biodegradable and limited access to composting facilities or collection of compostables, he said, as well as the fact that few consumers are aware of the need for a specific environment for packaging to degrade.
“As such it is possible that compostable claims on pack may result in consumers disposing of packaging in an unsuitable way,” said Punchard.