Packaging Materials

Identify data, gather and process information from primary and/or secondary sources to identify and discuss the issues associated with the increased need for a named natural resource and evaluate the progress currently being made to solve the problems identified


Packaging may not be a natural product, however the raw materials from which they are made certainly are. Most of the packaging materials encountered in day to day life are either paper or plastic based - the raw materials being wood or fossil fuels.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels (oil and coal), a non-renewable natural resource. It usually persists for a long time in the environment. Some plastics can be recycled (for example PET) however the majority are not easily retrieved. For example the plastics used for food packaging are chosen so that they are durable and stable over the long term. This is appropriate while the packaging is in use, however after use the plastic remains durable and stable - neither readily recyclable or biodegradable.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable as the processes by which oil or coal evolve occur over millions of years. The other major usage of fossil fuels is for energy, whether it be to make electricity or make a lawnmower go. Fossil fuels are thus in high demand and will run out within one hundred years (CHECK). As fossil fuel reserves are depleted prices rise, making the search for alternative sources and products a very attractive option.

Thus the search to replace plastic packaging is on.

A Replacement for Plastic

An ideal replacement for plastic packaging would have to be:

  • made from a renewable resource
  • durable and stable over its period of use
  • biodegradable in the long term

The replacement material must also be able to be manufactured in thin sheets, as this is how all packaging materials are used (including paper-based packaging). This is to save on material (thus reducing waste and more importantly cost).

The plastic used in packaging is usually a synthetic polymer such as polyethylene or polypropylene. This raises an interesting question - can we use natural polymers, such as starch, to replace the plastic in packaging?