The University of Warwick has found a new type of biodegradable plastic that can be tossed out with food scraps. Known as lignin, it is made from tree glue.

Lignin normally holds cellulose fibres to stiffening plant stems, and the researchers at the university found that it can be turned into a strong, moldable plastic.

The process of creating this material is still difficult at this stage, but it could be on shelves within five years if scientists can find a way to come up with a more efficient way of breaking down lignin.

Currently, the biggest challenge for producers is to convince consumers that sustainable packaging materials are worth the extra cost. Although there are long-term savings to be made by manufacturers moving to more sustainable materials, in the short term, prices will likely need to increase to cover the research and development costs of developing new materials and upgrading machinery to work with the new packs.

From niche to nationwide

Sustainable packaging was once a niche of which only a small minority of consumers took notice.  A small number of products boasted of how environmentally friendly their packaging was, and few consumers based purchasing decisions on how a pack could be disposed of.

However, consumers are increasingly putting pressure on manufacturers to reduce the impact that packaging has on the environment. As a result, ethical packaging is now becoming a ‘must have’ quality when purchasing a product. This sudden interest in sustainability in recent years has been driven by more open discussion via social media, and increased government lobbying resulting in action against plastics. The result of this pressure is evidenced by new legislation, such as the UK introducing a minimum 5p charge for plastic carrier bags.

75% of consumers worldwide think that living an ethical or sustainable lifestyle is important to creating a feeling of wellbeing, according to GlobalData’s global consumer survey from 2016 Q3.

This means that using sustainable packaging to reflect cleaner and healthier living is a priority for many consumers. As demand for organic and natural products grows, and the clean label trend continues to increase in popularity, having non-recyclable plastic packaging will start to limit the success of products which rate highly on ethics and sustainability in other parts of the supply chain.

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