Across the catering and hospitality industry, we have seen a trend towards making our operations more environmentally friendly.
Primarily driven by the demands of the consumer, businesses are now looking at alternative food packaging products in a bid to replace plastics and polystyrene and reduce the impact their operation has on the environment.
One of the latest emerging trends is Bagasse Material, a highly valuable renewable resource being widely used to produce disposable cups, plates, bowls and takeaway containers.
This article looks at what Bagasse is, how it is produced and the impacts it has on our environment in comparison to the traditional materials used in the manufacturing of food packaging.
We also look at why the material has become so popular and the benefits it brings in terms of its strength, ability to insulate and protect food.
What is Bagasse?
Bagasse (ba-gas) is plant fibre. More specifically, it is the fibrous matter by-product left over from the production of sugarcane. This biowaste product was typically just disposed of, thrown away or burnt as it had no practical application.
Bagasse vs Traditional Resources
Bagasse is now widely being used across the catering industry as a substitution for disposables made from wood, pulp, fibre, petrochemicals and plastics. Across the industry, you will commonly find Bagasse takeaway containers, bagasse plates and bagasse bowls.
An Alternative to Paper
Many people perceive that paper products are environmentally friendly, given its ability to compost and bio-degrade, as well as its classification as a renewable resource.
However, its production requires cutting down large quantities of trees. On September 18th National geographic have reported that approximately 18.7 million acres of forest are cut down each year, resulting in a loss of habitat for millions of animal species, as well as degradation of our ability to reduce carbon dioxide (absorbed by trees during photosynthesis), further contributing to the greenhouse effect and warming of our planet.
Harmful chemicals such as bleach are also commonly used to achieve the desired whitening effect, and additional materials such as plastic linings need to be added for end products to be suitable as food packaging. For example, plastic coatings are often added to take-away containers to ensure they are waterproof and greaseproof. This makes the end product much more difficult to recycle (as the materials need to be separated) and prevents the product from fully bio-degrading.
An Alternative to Plastics
Plastics are produced from petroleum, a non-renewable resource of which the production poses many impacts on our environment. However, the most significant issue is that plastic does not degrade naturally over time and therefore any plastic product not recycled or disposed of correctly can build-up and cause harm to our environment.
In the UK this year alone, 10.8 billion wet wipes, 16.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 42 billion plastic straws and 4.1 billion single-use drinks cups and lids have been thrown away (statistics by the WWF). Greenpeace state that around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic products end up in our oceans each year having a devastating effect on the marine life that occupies them.
By comparison, bagasse is a natural resource that is 100% compostable, meaning that if it does enter our environment, it will break down into soil entirely naturally, without any human intervention or additional processing.
Eco-Friendly Properties of Bagasse
- Produced as a bi-product from growing sugarcane.
- Sustainably sourced with little or no environmental impact.
- 100% compostable and will break down to compost if left in the natural environment.
- No additional additives or chemicals are needed to whiten or strengthen it.
- Quick replenishment of crops, with sugarcane being harvested in a single season.
Properties For Food Packaging
Bagasse material holds many natural features that make it ideal for use in food packaging and takeaway food containers.
- Grease and water resistant with no added chemicals needed.
- High resistance to temperature, easily withstands up to 95 degrees, microwave and freezer safe.
- High strength and durability. Fibrous texture adds protection far greater than paper and polystyrene packaging.
- Highly insulating, ensuring that it can keep food warmer for longer than traditional plastic and paper food packaging.
- Does not degrade prematurely, only starting to compost a few weeks after it has been exposed to natural elements.