Vegan Plastic

Since the 1980s, plastic has steadily become synonymous with cheap packaging material. Although it is well known that plastic has a massive negative impact on our ecosystem, animals and humans, the production volume is still increasing.

While many experts are calling for better recycling technologies and an increasing amount of countries are banning single-use plastics, there are other ways to reduce the massive threat. From an environmental perspective, plant-based plastic can help save fossil fuels and reduce the animal suffering.

Overall, the plant-based packaging solutions industry is still very small, accounting for less than 1% of the total market. This is also due to the fact that consumers regard plastic as being so commonplace that there is hardly any question as to whether these shopping bags and bottles are actually cruelty-free and vegan.

Are plastic bags vegan?

Most vegans might consider plastic bags to be vegan-friendly, but the production process does involve animal products in many cases. Apart from environmental concerns and plastic waste, plastic bags produced for the packaging industry often cannot be labeled as cruelty-free or vegan (see next section).

For many consumers, plastic bags are a guilty pleasure of everyday life and are practically just as much a part of the range of common household items as toothpaste, or cleaning supplies. According to The World Counts, over 5 trillion plastic bags are going to be consumed in 2022 alone, highlighting size and negative impact of the plastic packaging industry.

Animal fat used in plastic bags

Focusing on the vegan aspect of the plastic bag issue, it is due to various salts of stearic acid, which are the main animal-derived components (ADC) used in the manufacturing process of plastic packaging today, that a plastic bag cannot be referred to as vegan or cruelty-free.

These ADC, which are derived by rendering beef fat, offer lubricity to polymer compositions and keep the polymer from clinging to metal surfaces during extrusion or mold release. Frequently referred to as slipping agents, these additives manufactured from animal fats can reduce static and friction in the material.

Therefore, despite petroleum being the primary ingredient in the production of plastics, raw polymers are processed with the help of animal ingredients, in case of plastic bags with animal fats. Interestingly, not only are animal components found in plastic bags, but plastic components (microplastics) are also found in the animals and thus in the food supply chain. Whether living vegan or not, reducing plastic consumption is essential to preserve the health of animals and humans.

© Pexels

Are plastic bottles vegan?

According to Absolute Reports, the Plastic Bootles & Containers market is expected to reach 4430.62 billion unites in 2023, growing at a CAGR of 4.90% from 2018 to 2023. Knowingly bad for environment and animals, the market for plastic bottles is still on the rise and continues to cause damage to our ecosystem.

In terms of veganism, plastic bottles derived from fossil fuels are not considered as vegan. The reason behind this is that these fuels are made from organic remnants of long-dead plants and animals, which over time are transformed into molecules that are high in energy.

As a result, the term “non-vegan bottle” refers to products created from finite raw materials that cannot be replenished at the same rate as they are consumed, rather than products made after the death of animals. In this context, plastic bottles are created from animal (and plant) material, but not at the expense of harm and suffering brought on by humans.

What is vegan plastic?

Nowadays, the plastic we use begins to deplete our planet long before it becomes garbage since 99 percent of all new plastic is generated from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. The manufacture of plastic may be separated from the effects of fossil fuels by using plant-based plastic, sometimes referred to as bioplastic or biobased plastic, which is made from materials like sugarcane, algae, or spent cooking oil.

Consequently, vegan plastics’ primary raw material is of vegetable origin. Using agriculture to renew the raw material instead of petroleum, vegan plastics are often made from sugar cane. In this process, packaging companies make use of sugar cane farming’s waste.

Since the raw material is plant-based, it is a part of a closed cycle that is replaceable eternally. Additionally, the produced plastic is biodegradable, meaning that when handled after usage, it decomposes in a composting facility. Compared to other plastic materials, the resulting material emits fewer CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

Research on environmental-friendly vegan plastics

To promote environmental, social, and economic resilience across ecosystems and communities, plant-based plastic must be carefully crafted.

More than a decade ago, WWF became aware that the production of plant-based plastics and the issues surrounding their supply had an impact on the environments, species, and people. In order to promote research on this important and difficult subject and make sure that plant-based plastic lives up to its promise to benefit both nature and humans, WWF established the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) in 2012.

The role of veganism in international waste regulations

Imagining an eco-friendly future in which being vegan means that you have access to a wide range of vegan options, enabling a simple diet without meat and dairy products is not all what veganism is about.

While the food industry is starting to remove animal items from its portfolio, alternatives for non-vegan packaging materials are rarely discussed. However, there are campaigns to reduce plastic consumption in various industries and countries. The plant-based food sector is not an exception, as many vegan businesses consider the goal of eliminating plastics to be part of their mission to develop a more kind, nutritious, and environmentally responsible food system.

No Evil Foods Founder
Sadrah Schadel ©No Evil Foods

Vegan businesses are aware of their responsibility

As many businesses in the food sector and beyond are starting to create vegan alternatives for most of a consumers’ everyday products, the awareness for the issue of single-use packaging materials is is especially strong among ethical companies, of which many are located in the plant-based food industry.

Sadrah Schadel, co-founder and chief creative officer of No Evil Foods, producer of a range of plant-based meats, told Forbes: “[…] As we work to solve one problem, we don’t want to lose sight of how we’re contributing to another, and plastic waste is a big one. It comes down to recognizing a need for a more sustainable food system. The consequences of our reliance on single-use plastic can’t be ignored.”

Are vegan plastics commercially available on the market?

After the initial shock of finding that plastic bags and other packaging items are not vegan friendly, the question may arise whether there are vegan plastic solutions commercially available on the market?

In fact, ADC-free plastics are in demand in an increasing number of areas. Not only against the backdrop of increasing concern regarding safety of ADCs, but also due to the environmental footprint of the final product, are vegan plastic solutions a hot topic in the packaging industry.

Repurpose Global
©rePurpose Global

Vegan packaging solutions on the market

In the field of packaging solutions for the food and beverage industry, ACTEGA DS encountered demands for vegan and kosher solutions at a very early stage and has the ability to equip all portfolio formulae with the ability to be optimally processed in injection-molding as vegan variants if so required. This holds true for both TPE used in the manufacturing of consumer items and in the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

ACTEGA DS provides solutions for delicate settings in the form of sealing materials for the food and beverage industries as well as premium TPE compounds for medical technology, pharmaceuticals, personal care, consumer products, and domestic items dealing with animal-derived components.

Why single-use plastics are killing animals

Disposable plastic, sometimes referred to as single-use plastic, poses a risk to both the environment and public health. The ingestion, suffocation, and entanglement of marine life is the most obvious effect of plastic trash and waste.

Seabirds, whales, fish, and other marine animals mistake plastic debris for food, which results in starvation to death due to their stomachs being full of plastic waste. Therefore, even if a plastic item is advertised as recyclable, it is still a waste material if it is intended to be thrown away.

Killing animals through the use of single-use packaging materials is unethical and accelerates a society of overconsumption and waste that is unable to balance its own actions. In this context, it is important for any company, as well as manufacturers, to realize the danger of single-use plastic items.

Since the massive use of waste material in the global supply chain that we see today is anything but suitable for the fight against climate change, it is crucial to create plastic-free plant-based alternatives that waive any animal or dairy sources in the production process.

Any plastic product that is used just once before being discarded in the garbage is referred to as single-use plastic or throwaway plastic. Plastic bottles, straws, and shopping bags are some examples of the single-use plastics product category.

plastic on coral reef
©Drew McArthur

Recycling plastics is no solution

Plastic has been produced at a quicker rate than any other material since the 1970s. Today, we create around 400 million tonnes of plastic garbage annually, according to the UN Environment Program.

Packaging accounts for around 36% of all plastics produced, including single-use items like food and beverage containers, as well as shopping bags. Most people are aware that consumers attitude regarding packaging pollution and the short life-span of these items has an impact on the industry and works as a incentive for any company to look for suitable alternatives.

Although the implementation of a sophisticated recycling technology, in which more than 90% of plastics are recycled, can be part of the solution, it must be highlighted that there is no such thing as a ‘recycling-miracle’. In order to find a sustainable path for the packaging industry, recycling can only be one pillar of the solution.

Is a plastic-free future possible?

Although the voices against global plastic production are getting louder, the production volume is still increasing. The issue of excessive plastic waste, which was not a major problem until the 1980s, has become a self-perpetuating problem.

The truth is, there was a time before the era of disproportionate plastic waste, and there can be a time after. As discussed above, recycling can be just as much a part of the solution, as a switch to plant-based packaging solutions. So far, less than 1% of plastics produced are biodegradable.

Fortunately, governments, producers, and consumers alike are recognizing the magnitude of the problem and developing solutions that go beyond simple recycling. As of 2022, the ban of single-use plastics is the most widespread approach in the fight against plastic pollution and waste.

Cem Özdemir Germany Vegetarian Minister
Cem Özdemir © Sedat Mehder

Governments speaking up against single-use plastics

All over the world, many governments are speaking up against single-use plastics and discuss the total ban of hard to recycle and single-use plastics against the background of increasing pollution and waste issues.

While Western countries like to portray themselves as leaders in recycling technologies and waste management, several developing countries, including Bangladesh and many African states are leading the way when it comes to regulations of single-use plastics.

Ban of single-use plastics in Europe

In 2021, The Single-Use Plastics Directive entered into force in the European Union and claims that single-use plastics that can be replaced by other materials are prohibited by the regulation. Thereby, a “single-use plastic product” is defined as a product that is made wholly or partly from plastic and that is not conceived, designed, or placed on the market to be used multiple times for the same purpose.

However, only eight of the 27 member states, according to reports, have taken steps to implement the Single-Use Plastics Directive into national legislation, and even these nations have not completely complied with the EU requirement so far.

Ban of single-use plastics in Africa

In fact, Africa is a global leader when it comes to single-use plastics regulations. On the African continent, single-use plastic usage is strictly prohibited in a number of nations, including Tanzania, Kenya, Mali, Cameroon, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, South Africa, Rwanda, and Botswana. In a total of 34 out of 54 African states single-use plastics are fully or partially banned.

Pressure on the single-use plastics industry also grew with the announcement that the South African government plans to oppose a multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) that would effectively stop the import of plastics into Africa.

Ban of single-use plastics in the US

Presently, there isn’t any federal regulation governing single-use plastics in the US. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was first presented in 2020, and it has been ongoing through 2021. The Bill was being reviewed by the Senate as of March 2021. However, passing a measure like this at the federal level might take years.

Some states have outright prohibited some kinds of single-use plastics, primarily plastic bags. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont are a few of these. There is a sizable list of more states that are considering banning plastic bags.

Additionally, the U.S. Interior Department said in June 2022 that it will phase out the sale of single-use plastic goods in public areas, including national parks, by 2032.

Ban of single-use plastics in Asia

A number of Asian nations now have national restrictions or bans on single-use plastics. Long before the issue of single-use plastic bags became widely discussed, Bangladesh became the first nation to enact a countrywide ban on plastic bags in 20026.

In 2020, China announced a ban with a seven-phase implementation schedule, with the first phase starting at the end of 2020 and the last phase starting in 2025.

Additionally, India announced a ban on single-use plastics, which will go into force in 2028. The majority of national prohibitions have been found to be poorly implemented, and others have been accused of having several flaws.

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