The race to find an alternative for plastic packaging materials is on, as companies across the globe vie to innovate and patent a commercial alternative that can viably meet increasingly stringent sustainability standards.

Part of this race is the constant competition between alternative materials such as glass, polyethylene terephthalate, and even natural materials like bamboo and egg shells.

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Every material has its benefits and drawbacks, but companies can agree on one thing: the necessary push for constant improvement and adaptive materials.

Arvindh Sundar, packaging consultant at GlobalData Consumer Custom Solutions, singles out plant-based content as an advancing material for industry players and FCMG leaders to replace virgin plastic in their supply chains.

Indeed, research is continually being conducted on plant-based materials, such as Michigan State University’s recent progress with biodegradable plastics.

However, such innovations can seem underdeveloped and risky from a business point of view.

Packaging Gateway spoke with Stanley Mitchell, head of business development at Cambridge-based materials science company Xampla, to delve further into the potential of plant-based materials and plastics.

How can plant-based materials combat ‘hidden plastics’?

Found within personal and homecare products, hidden plastics are polluting particles that the naked eye cannot see. For example, fragrance microcapsules, found within fabric conditioners and other homecare applications, are typically made from plastic. These plastics are so small that once they enter wastewater systems through our washing machines there is no way of recovering them.

The longevity of fragrance within homecare products is a key purchasing motivator, meaning currently majority fabric conditioners that contain fragrance microcapsules have the potential to release harmful microplastics into the environment. The implications of these ‘hidden plastics’ on our natural environment and marine life is dire.

However, Xampla’s natural material provides a solution to the industry’s problem. Our plant-based material can be used to deliver biodegradable microcapsules that provide the same product performance for consumers. The plant-based materials decompose naturally and fully, providing important nutrients for wildlife and plants – putting back into the soil what nature has given.

What advice would you give to companies who are unclear on how to integrate sustainable packaging into their operations?

Integrating sustainable packaging solutions into companies existing operations can come with a high capital expense. One piece of advice for those seeking to diversify their portfolio of packaging options would be to look to sustainable packaging partners that can work with you to adapt their material and manufacturing processes to match existing equipment.

Bringing together the best industry minds and undertaking years of research and development into the properties of our material has enabled us at Xampla to offer a replacement to plastic that can drop into existing manufacturing processes. This removes any cost or logistical barriers for companies, providing a faster route for replacing the plastics. It also ensures the material is scalable and suitable for a wide range of applications and end users.

Do you foresee a future where plant-based materials will completely replace plastic?

We are seeing that brands are increasingly seeking innovative packaging formats to not only replace plastic but to offer an entirely new product experience with our plant-based materials. At Xampla, we work with FMCG companies and their supply chain partners – including global drinks retailer, Britvic and recipe box company, Gousto.

We know that recycling doesn’t work: in all the years of education around the topic, only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled. The market for sustainable packaging is only moving in one direction so brands that do not invest in truly sustainable solutions early will be left behind.

Companies now need to invest in next-generation solutions. New materials provide endless possibilities at scale including high-performance replacements for plastics and entirely new product innovations for the industry.

Xampla will exhibit at the Plant Based World Expo in London on 15-16 November 2023.