Plants vs. plastic in food service and packaging

Innovative, plant-based materials are a proven Solid Waste Management (SWM) strategy. The sustainable alternatives disintegrate rather than accumulate in landfills. They can be composted rather than hauled for disposal. Plant-based materials won’t be seen on beaches or in the ocean where, by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish.[1]

These six plants have been widely deployed as sustainable replacements for plastic:

Bamboo

Bamboo cutlery

Quick-growing bamboo is a renewable resource. The plants do not die after harvesting. Even the harvested materials can help the next generation of plants to grow as discarded bamboo utensils add nutrients to the soil.

Bamboo flatware is durable and washable, making it ideal for travel, camping, and lunches at work and school. Sturdy enough to handle most foods, bamboo can re-used many times before its eventual composting.[2]

Banana leaves

Supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam wrap their produce in banana leaves. This replaces all except the small amount of plastic required to adhere to a label. In some places, meats are also wrapped in a banana leaf and secured with a flexible cutting of bamboo.[3]

Coconut

Discarded coconut husks mixed with organic adhesive are molded into cartons, protecting many foods. The strong, cushioning materials will cradle eggs without breaking and produce without bruising in transit from farm to warehouse to store. When it’s time to dispose of the coconut fiber capsules, they are fully biodegradable.[4]

Cornstarch

“Paper, plastic, or cornstarch?”

You may not have heard that question at your local grocery, but in China, plastic grocery bags are illegal. A major retailer there, Alibaba.com, and their American competitor, Amazon.com, both offer cornstarch bags.

Cornstarch has significant potential to replace Styrofoam takeout containers. The durable, petroleum-free, containers made from cornstarch resin can be refrigerated and frozen.

Mushrooms

Mushroom packaging

An international retailer of furniture and household items, IKEA, is replacing significant quantities of polystyrene with sustainable, mushroom-based packaging. Other retailers, including Dell Computers, have used biodegradable packing components to replace EPE-polyethylene foam for cushioning and bracing.

Most plastics require 500 years or more to decompose. In soil, mushroom-based packaging can biodegrade within weeks.[5]

Sugar cane

Bagasse, the pulp material remaining after extracting sugar cane juice, is the source of many products normally made from polystyrene or other plastics.[6] Alibaba.com offers 943 sugar cane packaging products. One manufacturer, Bulldog Skincare for Men, packages face washes, scrubs, and moisturizers in sugar cane tubes.

More and more plant-based materials are replacing plastics. Please leave a note on the Contact page to share others that you’ve seen. With your permission, your “plants vs. plastics” discoveries will be published in updates or additional articles this summer. Thank you!

Alexa Stone
LEED AP, Sustainable Facility Professional, Envision Sustainability Professional - - Alexa has more than 25 years of experience in sustainable operations, decarbonization, and occupant wellness. Her strategic planning work has served local, state, and federal government, higher education, and private industry. Alexa founded ecoPreserve in 2009 as a team of three and has grown the company to over 20 of the brightest sustainability and project management professionals in the industry.
Alexa Stone

@ecopreserve

We empower organizations to reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, and improve quality of life.
Remote work is not always possible., but an estimated 56% of jobs in the U.S. are at least partially compatible wit… https://t.co/Mz8U0J2tKL - 6 days ago
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Facility Condition Report

The report is prepared in accordance with the recommendations of ASTM E2018-15, Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments. This is a partial list of contents:

  • PHYSICAL CONDITION
    • General condition of the building, grounds, and appurtenances
    • Physical deficiencies, their significance, and suggested remedies
    • Photographs
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  • OPPORTUNITIES
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Risk Mitigation Improvements

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AWARE of CDC and NIH guidelines

The Baseline Property Condition Assessments described in ASTM E2018-15 do not specify consideration of infectious disease transmission concerns. In a pandemic and post-pandemic environment, that inspection and documentation is essential.

Buildings open to the public must comply with local regulations. For best results and greatest public acceptance, any planning for building repairs and maintenance should not overlook current CDC and NIH guidelines.

Optionally, ecoPreserve's can assist with a comprehensive GBAC STAR™ Accreditation which extends beyond the building to include the goals, actions, equipment, and supplies needed to implement best practices for outbreak prevention, response, and recovery.

An OPTIMIZED Assessment

Certified Sustainability Consultants on a facility assessment team can discover ways to lower energy costs. Their understanding of HVAC equipment suitability and condition along with the specifics of LED lighting retrofits can provide offsets for needed investments in upgrades and replacements.

Knowledge of water systems can bring further savings while averting water waste. It can all be part of an assessment which might otherwise overlook water fixtures and irrigation schedules.

How should a facility be ASSESSED?

A thorough facility assessment finds the issues - on the surface or below - which have a potential negative impact on the building. That brings the facility to meet building codes. Beyond that, the assessment proactively addresses the deficiencies not covered by code.

The occupants of a building benefit as the assessment reveals conditions having a potential impact on their health or safety. The assessment must not overlook those conditions, nor fail to consider the frequency and duration of occupant visits.