Plastic packaging is essential to modern life, supermarket shopping would be impossible without packaging, and food waste would increase dramatically if we were not able to deliver appropriate amounts of prepared foodstuff to the public. Some mock the concept of an individual cucumber being wrapped in plastic shrink-wrap but that simple action permits a shelf life of 14 days in comparison to 3 days without wrapping.
Polyolefins in particular have been an enormous success in packaging and agricultural applications requiring mechanically tough films, because they are cheap, easy to process and tough, and offer excellent barrier properties against moisture, micro-organisms and oxygen. They have come to dominate a highly competitive market simply because they are the best solution.
The current issues surrounding waste management are well known but plastic material often cannot easily be collected for reuse or recycling. A possible solution where waste management is problematic is to render the packaging material degradable and ultimately biodegradable. That way, whichever disposal route is taken the plastic will not interrupt the process. In the case of any plastic which misses the correct disposal routes, e.g. by becoming litter, then biodegradability becomes an important element.
One approach is oxo-biodegradable plastics. These work through an additive system that renders conventional polyolefins, amongst other common polymers, bio-degradable.
The opportunity to convert oil-derived and bio-based (such as polyethylene derived from sugar cane) packaging into a biodegradable material and maintain all the advantages of economical production and safe, hygienic packaging has been recognised in Central and Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and India with regional and national legislation recognising and in some cases stipulating the use of oxo-biodegradable technology.