Minimizing Plastic: The Role of ELNs in the Quest for a Biodegradable Alternative
There’s no point ignoring the Millennial impact on the consumer market. Healthy benefits, sustainability, and convenience—these three traits define this influential buyer demographic. The last category, however, has had a noticeable—if unsurprising—impact.
Gone are the days of preparing meals from boxes or heating up frozen dinners. People prefer picking up fresh, packaged foods. Walk into your local supermarket and no doubt you’ll notice that the prepared foods section has gotten bigger over the past few years. This growth comes with consequences, unfortunately. Think about the type of containers those salads or pre-made sandwiches come in: that’s right—they’re made of plastic.
As our use of plastic increases, so does the amount of plastic waste. Despite our best efforts to recycle and collect trash, studies estimate that 5.3-14 million tons of plastic entered the ocean as trash in 2010.1 That’s a lot! To make matters worse, plastic tends to fragment into smaller pieces, which means it’s hard to collect. It also can absorb contaminants already present in the environment. Yikes! That’s not good for us or the planet.
Some companies are looking to mitigate the situation. They’re not necessarily trying to decrease our plastic use. Our society is too dependent on the flexible and cost-effective material for that to happen. What they are trying to do is make plastic more eco-friendly and biodegradable. That’s where electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) come in.
ELNs Can Aid Bioplastic Development
Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable biomass sources such as food crops, corn starch, microbes, and even vegetable oil. In recent years, there’s been increased interest in plant-based plastics because they’re able to degrade and can reduce greenhouse emissions by as much as 26%.
This doesn’t mean we can celebrate just yet, though. Replacing traditional petroleum-based plastics won’t be easy. There are still a few wrinkles to iron out. It turns out that not all bioplastics are biodegradable and that among those that are, it can be difficult to control when they do. Can you imagine holding a water bottle, only to have it start falling apart in your hands?
Developing bioplastics requires repeat experiments and managing vast amounts of data. How long does it take the bioplastic to degrade? What type of conditions can it withstand? What materials can it hold? Thankfully, ELNs can clone experimental templates so users don’t have to start from scratch every time. In addition, ELNs allow you to tag information, making it easy to search through your results for the data sets you need.
ELNs Can Help Companies Take Advantage of Growth Potential
Despite our increased push for sustainability and eco-friendliness, one major hurdle exists for bioplastics: cost.2 People want the best of both worlds. They want to be kind to the environment, but they also don’t want to shell out more money to do so. But as it stands, that’s not possible for bioplastics. They currently cost more than the conventional petroleum-based counterparts.
So what should we do? Give up? Definitely not! Demand for bioplastics are increasing in the food and beverage sector for a variety of reasons. They have a glossy, attractive appearance. They’re anti-static and have a longer shelf life. Given the Millennial demand for safe and convenient packaged foods, there’s clearly a market for bioplastics. In fact, research predicts a 36.8% growth by 2020.3
Firms can make use of ELNs to meet this surge in demand. Collaborative tools allow colleagues to share data and information in real-time, cutting down on delays. The ability of ELNs to automate repetitive tasks can maximize productive time, which would decrease the R&D cycle. And along the way, surely companies can find cost-effective bioplastics.
Given the current push for sustainable resources and eco-friendliness, companies will likely have to innovate in order to develop alternative products. The ability is there, but we’re only just at the beginning. More work will be needed to find materials that meet consumer standards while also remain profitable. With the help of ELNs, however, those answers may be closer than we think.
- “Meet the companies trying to break our plastic addiction,” August 6, 2015, http://www.greenbiz.com/article/meet-companies-trying-break-our-plastic-addiction ↩
- “What’s the future of bioplastics for commodity packaging?” May 27, 2015, http://www.packagingdigest.com/sustainable-packaging/whats-the-future-of-bioplastics-for-commodity-packaging1505 ↩
- “Global Bioplastics Packaging Market for Food and Beverages to Reach US$28,503.6 Million by 2020,” August 28, 2015, http://www.industrytoday.co.uk/market-research-industry-today/global-bioplastics-packaging-market-for-food-and-beverages-to-reach-us285036-million-by-2020/38577 ↩