Blog 22 Apr 2024 

Tackling the plastic problem: How manufacturing industries are innovating to develop sustainable solutions

As useful as plastics are, they leave a heavy impact on our planet. Innovation is tackling this impact with bioderived biodegradable plastics, learn more.

Graeme Cruickshank

Graeme Cruickshank

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer

From seaweed-based packaging to other biodegradable alternatives, there are a variety of new ways to reduce our reliance on plastic as we know it. The answer lies in innovation.

Plastic is everywhere, posing a massive threat to human health and ecosystems alike. Some 430 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year globally, around two-thirds of which becomes waste, with around 11 million tonnes entering the oceans. This is on top of the estimated 200 million tonnes of plastic already overwhelming marine environments. 

Last year, in the UK, a ban was introduced on single-use plastics including items made from biodegradable, compostable and recycled plastic. This doesn’t make biodegradable alternatives a bad thing – what it means is that there is an urgent need for innovation within the industry to create more sustainable alternatives that can be re-used in their original form or have a circular lifecycle. 

Tackling the scale of the plastic problem

In England alone, billions of single-use plates and pieces of cutlery are used and discarded, most of which are plastic. As only 10 percent is recycled, the majority will be left to decompose in landfills over centuries. This continuing ecological and health problem is why we need measures to curb plastic production. 

Replacing plastic as we know it isn’t impossible. For some uses, non-plastic alternatives are already available. It’s not that long ago that most people had milk delivered to their doorstep in glass bottles. Reusable beeswax wraps can replace plastic food wrapping, natural fibres can replace synthetic ones and other plastic alternatives also exist.

However, in many applications, replacing plastic can be more complex. Alternatives need to be durable, air-tight, sturdy, protective, easily manufactured in large quantities and so on. To develop sustainable, bioderived solutions that meet the long criteria requires innovation at pace and scale. Working with our partners, we are creating practical alternatives to wasteful single-use plastics. 

Innovations replacing harmful plastics

141 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced per year globally and it makes up 70 percent of UK plastic waste. Soon, your supermarket lettuce head could be available in a plastic-free, marine safe compostable bio-packaging instead. At CPI, we have worked with Oceanium to develop their sustainably farmed seaweed-based packaging and ensured it had the required properties to hold food. Its natural sea-plant origin means it can be thrown away with food scraps into the compost bin where it will fully biodegrade alongside the other organic matter. 

Young tree saplings need protection from physical elements like wind and rain as well as animals and humans. That’s why you often see them enclosed in plastic tubes and held up with plastic ties. Despite the good intentions they come with a cost. Their manufacture produces emissions, and they are often left on the land without being recycled or reused. Although single-use, biodegradable plastic is included in the UK Government’s ban, Chestnut Bio’s biodegradable plastic is for exempt use cases in the food production and forestry sectors. Their bio-based, biodegradable alternative tree guards are already in trial across UK 35 locations and the formulation is being developed for use as cable ties and other applications.

The Biome Bioplastics division of Biome Technologies plc is also working on the manufacture of biodegradable tree guards as well as biodegradable plastics with many applications in the automotive industry, electronics, cosmetics and more. They came to us with an innovative and feasible way of extracting high-performance chemical plastic alternatives from lignin, a by-product of the paper and biofuels industries. Our job was to help them scale up the process for commercial manufacture and get it closer to being ready to go to market. 

These are just a few of the innovative ways in which we and others are working to help industries tackle the problem of waste from plastic. 

Achieving a plastic-free future

Our unsustainable use of plastics where hazardous chemicals and materials they are made of end up in a land-fill every day is harming the environment and our health. It doesn’t have to be this way. Developing sustainable alternatives and processes is possible. From the use of bioderived, biodegradable materials to a circular system that prevents the materials from going to the landfill – every step of the process has a role to play. 

Our continuing work with manufacturing businesses, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and industries is creating innovative solutions that are kind to our health and environment. Whilst developing sustainable polymers, plastics and packaging, we are also identifying end-of-life options, to help our partners take strides towards circularity. 

Get in touch if you too are passionate about driving the change, and have an exciting product to make it possible. 

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