Spider Silk & The Plastic Packaging Problem

Plastic packaging has become a worldwide issue, as its lack of biodegradability means that the billions of tons of plastic waste generated each year create ecological problems.

Spiders Web

Plastic production emits greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and it is shown to remain in our environment for centuries, providing a home to viruses, and pests and potentially endangering wildlife.

Packaging made from plastic generates an immense amount of hazardous waste which can contaminate water sources and make its way onto land where it endangers other species living nearby. Plastic packaging production also relies on a system of short-term consumption with long-term consequences; thoughtless consumption is a driving factor of increased plastic production and waste. It was reported that in 2018 46% of the 340 million tonnes of plastic waste generated was from packaging.

Plastic usage continues to drastically grow each year; policymakers should focus on creating alternative packaging solutions that are renewable, eco-friendly, and carbon neutral.

The Growth of Plastic Recycling

Plastic recycling has become an increasingly important issue over recent years due to its damaging environmental impacts. Recent statistics suggest that we are making progress when it comes to plastic waste management as more people move away from a throwaway culture and look to use eco-friendly packaging to reduce their environmental footprint.

Plastic recycling in the U.S. recaptured 27.4 million tons of material in 2018, marking a three percent increase from 2017 and a more than triple increase from 20 years earlier. This is an encouraging sign that we are on the path to reducing the wastage of plastic materials, although there is still much progress needed to be made.

There is still the issue of much of the plastic created for use Today being either single-use or nonrecyclable alongside the fact that the global demand for food will doubly by 2050 meaning more packaging waste will be created.
Industries have begun developing innovative ways to convert primary plastic into secondary sources which can then be reused in production processes, demonstrating the potential for sustained reuse and minimization of waste output.

Packaging manufacturers are now looking at new sustainable materials that will help to eliminate the use of harmful products in the future.

Spider Silk and Plant-Based Sustainable Packaging: A lesson from Nature

Researchers at a University in the UK have discovered a creative way to produce plastic plant-based packaging from readily available plant protein. Inspired by spider silk these packaging films function in a similar way to traditional plastics but can be readily composted at home.

Spider Silk & Vegan Silk

It is truly impressive that material as light and delicate as spider silk is being used for packaging. Scientists have been researching for many years how to make the most of this natural fibre, and recently they have been able to create an environmentally friendly packaging solution from spiders’ silk.

Such packaging is practically indestructible, biodegradable, and highly attractive. Packaging made from spider silk offers opportunities in many sectors: from designer goods to food products that require secure shipping, this remarkable material has become a source of inspiration for product designers everywhere.

Researchers also created plant-based plastics with the addition of nanoparticles smaller than one-millionth of a meter, which means material structures can be manipulated and controlled to create new flexible packaging films for use across sectors. They were able to mimic a material that looks like spider silk on a molecular level. They christened it ‘Vegan Spider Silk.

Packaging made from spider silk will not only revolutionise the way goods are shipped but could also help reduce waste and contribute towards our goal of protecting the planet.

Plant-Based Materials in Packaging Manufacturing

Plant-based packaging made from materials from the plant itself is an exciting new advance in sustainability. By using packaging that is renewable and biodegradable, companies can reduce the environmental impact associated with plastic production.

Packaging from plants uses up to 30% less water and up to 70% less energy at manufacturing sites compared to traditional plastics, making it a cost-effective solution for businesses of all sizes. Not only can this packaging help cut down on global waste levels, but it also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well.

Alternatively, there some biodegradable plant-based plastics that can provide real-world, viable alternatives to traditional plastics. These include PLA (Polylactic acid), PBS (Polybutylene Succinate), PCL (Polycaprolactone), and various PHAs (Polyhydroxyalkanoates).

Each of these plant-based plastics is much more environmentally friendly when compared to non-renewable polymers as they come from renewable sources and are fully recyclable & compostable.

Plant-based packaging promises to revolutionise sustainability efforts within the industry while helping companies reach their goal of becoming more eco-friendly by reducing their carbon footprint and producing only sustainable packaging solutions.

The Different Types of Plastics Packaging

Using the food packaging market as an example we typically see both synthetic and non-biodegradable plastics used in film constructions. These include PET (polyethylene terephthalate), PS (Polystyrene), and CPET (Crystalline Polyethylene Terephthalate).

Some mechanical and chemical processes already exist mainly for the disposal of PET but it is a little-known fact that despite all the West recycling initiatives and efforts the vast majority of plastic packaging is still sent to landfills. This is exacerbated by the inconvenient truth that PET can take hundreds of years to decompose and is certainly not biodegradable. Unfortunately, the damage done to ecosystems during that time can be severe.

There is a need for scientists and researchers to find viable solutions to the problem of plastics in packaging. Spider silk and plant-based packaging are great ways to start this process and encourage packaging sustainability and decrease plastic pollution.

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