Biodegradable food packaging is a viable option for the UK food industry, but only if proper recycling facilities are developed, according to a new handbook.
"Sustainable food packaging: biodegradable and compostable options", by Catherine Creaney, is designed to help plant managers understand sustainable food packaging, and how it may affect their businesses in future.
The food industry is increasingly using packaging made with starch, cellulose and polylactic acid (PLA), as opposed to the traditional petroleum polymer, because of consumer concern over packaging waste causing environmental damage.
This kind of biodegradable and compostable packaging was designed to be recycled and "cycle back into nature", Creaney said, helping to reduce landfill waste.
However, this kind of packaging is only environmentally friendly when industrially composted, Creaney added, and there are not many systems to do this available in the UK.
It then ends up in landfill, where it produces methane - a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
Creaney also points out that the current use of sustainable packaging is limited, as its moisture barrier properties are inferior to its petroleum polymer counterparts.
"To date, there are a limited number of viable biodegradable and compostable food packaging material options that are commercially available," she said.
Over the past five years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable materials in response to projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging.
Mandates from giant supermarkets forcing suppliers to make the switch are also coming into effect.
However, some companies have indicated that switching to "green" resources is not always simple or profitable.
In May, UK-based Stanlico announced it would offload its biodegradable packaging arm and that it is abandoning its proprietary Greenseal technology for recyclable food trays.
"Sustainable Food Packaging: Biodegradable and Compostable Options" is published by Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association Group.