At Certainly Wood, sustainability and a responsibility to the environment are part of our ethos. As such, we are taking steps to use less plastic to pack our products. We aim to become a carbon-neutral business by 2030 and as such, we are constantly adapting measures and methods to help us do so. One of the most notable changes you may have seen over the years is the reduction in plastic in our packaging. In this article, we will dive deeper into our Flamers packaging and what we have done to reduce plastic usage in this particular product.
Our original Flamers packaging:
You can buy our Flamers Natural Firelighters in a range of pack sizes, with all except the 200 pack having plastic windows. These windows were designed to provide a visual appeal and allow the customer to see the product first-hand before purchasing, which is pretty essential. However, the issue lies in the material. These windows were fully plastic, so we knew we needed to find an alternative material that offers the same benefits.
What was the alternative?
The answer...corn starch! Corn starch is made from polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic alternative made from fermented plant starch. Although this may sound unrealistic, the different uses of polylactic acid could be a viable way of reducing a business's carbon footprint. This particular plastic is a substitute for petroleum-based plastic as it has the same characteristics, but it is just made out of different materials. For instance, corn starch is made of polymers and polyactic acid (made from plant starch) and goes through a unique polymerization process, whereas standard plastic is created from materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt, and crude oil, also through the polymerization process.
What are the benefits of corn starch plastic?
Following swiftly on from the material aspect of things, the main thing to note is that corn plastic is biodegradable and will decompose within two months if appropriately discarded. Because it is a bioplastic, when it is incinerated, it will not emit any toxic gasses as it didn't have any to begin with. And actually, it has been proven that there is a reduction of approximately 68% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the production of conventional fossil fuel plastic. So a considerable amount less greenhouse gas is emitted through the process of making corn starch. On top of that, it comes from a renewable source (corn), which can be planted again, making it much more efficient and accessible. Finally, when looking into the safety side of things, there is a lower risk hazard because corn starch polymers risk no danger of exploding when in production, whereas petroleum-based plastics do. However, like most alternatives, there are always a few disadvantages.
What are the disadvantages of corn starch plastic?
The biggest issue with anything, including the phrase "bio," is associated with the rate of biodegradation and recycling. As previously discussed, corn starch plastics are made from PLA (plant-based) and must be disposed of in a composting facility. Corn plastic can only break down and decompose in temperatures above 60 degrees, which means it will only break down properly in the environment of a commercial composting facility and not in the comforts of your compost bin. However, only a few industrial composting facilities in the UK currently exist where this plastic can be composted correctly. As a result, the recycling stream could get contaminated or, even worse, end up in a landfill. So, consumers need to know the difference between the two because if corn starch plastic does end up in a landfill, the breaking down process would be halted. After all, landfill sites are packed so tight that the plastic would not have the components to decompose.
What is corn starch actually used for?
Moving on from the obvious (plastic windows in flamers packaging!), you will often find corn starch in biodegradable packaging materials, like your Tesco shopping bags, food packaging, disposable plates and bowls, textiles, and accessories, and even your dog waste bags. These are the most common uses of corn starch plastics, but did you also know they are used in medical implants and surgical devices such as ligatures and meshes?
Is corn starch plastic a good alternative for conventional plastic?
In our opinion, yes. Even though the two plastics appear to look the same, the chemical compositions differ significantly. One is made up of fossil fuels like crude oil and petroleum, and the other is made from polymers in corn, a renewable material. Not only will you be helping to improve carbon footprint, the raw materials that are used to get corn starch polymers are cheap and easy to produce. The use of polylactic acid is highly diverse and has a lower environmental footprint than fossil fuel plastic.