The world is currently choked with plastics: eight million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year1, and if this trend continues, an estimated 12 billion tons of plastic waste will be present in the environment by 20502. Recycling, properly disposing, and preventing this waste from happening is key.
The food packaging industry is one of the main culprits in producing plastic waste. After their initial use, plastic water bottles, food containers, and utensils find their way into the environment, plaguing wildlife and their ecosystems during a life cycle up to 1,000 years before decomposition3.
This means that sea life is either trapped by plastic netting and fishing lines or consuming plastic bags and small pieces of broken-up plastics. It also means that woodlands and other natural spaces are congested with plastic bags, tarps, and bottles that decrease the quality of life for animals and plants that depend on the health of their local ecosystem to survive.
Luckily, food and beverage (F&B) companies and the packaging industry have taken notice and are taking steps to correct this plastic impediment. In response to the negative impact that plastic waste has on the environment, F&B companies are starting to change their approach to plastic bottles, food-grade tape, and dog food packaging.
As F&B packaging moves away from plastics, eco-friendly food packaging options made from biodegradable materials have become an industry-wide trend. Sustainable food packaging will increase the use of eco-friendly glue and ultimately help the industry reduce its negative footprint.
Why Is Adhesive Choice Critical for the Environment?
Glue is a tiny part of a bigger whole and can be overlooked in the process of making eco-friendly decisions in manufacturing. However, small amounts of plastics and chemicals can add up over time. Also, for a product’s packaging to be considered and marketed as eco-friendly, all parts must be compostable and meet ASTM standards.
Below is a breakdown of commonly used adhesives in manufacturing and how they impact the environment.
What Is Eco-Friendly Glue?
As you can see in the chart above, one type of eco-friendly glue is gelatin glue.
Most gelatin glues are FDA-compliant adhesives intended for indirect food contact, meaning they’re safe to use in packaging that houses food until it’s ready to be prepared and consumed. There are also FDA-approved eco-friendly glues intended for direct food contact, which are safe for human consumption; these glues are subject to a different set of FDA standards.
It’s important to understand the difference between the types of eco-friendly glues and adhesives and how they’re used in packaging to understand the effect they’ll have on the environment. The adhesives used for direct food contact are often pressure-sensitive glues; they require different levels of pressure to adhere and bond. By making bands and tapes with pressure-sensitive adhesives— say to secure a bunch of bananas for transport and eventual display—bonds aren’t formed until a tape has adequate pressure applied where the adhesive is present. These glues are commonly referred to as food-safe or food-grade glues.
Regardless of the type, eco-friendly glues are used in sustainable packing because of one crucial factor: they're biodegradable, meaning they can decompose naturally in the wild, usually with minimal impact before and after production.
How Does Eco-Friendly Glue Benefit the Environment?
Eco-friendly glue is a crucial component of any sustainable packaging because of its ability to be naturally processed by bacteria, fungi, and other natural decomposers in nature. A plastic bottle or piece of shrink wrap is more difficult for bacteria and fungus to break down; they can take hundreds of years to biodegrade due to their hydrocarbons derived from natural gas, coal, and oil.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sustainable packaging is typically made with cellulose or other plant-based byproducts, which are more easily processed by bacteria and fungi. Some sustainable packaging is made from recyclable materials that are processed and re-purposed, such as cardboard and forms of recyclable plastics, which keep them out of the environment and in the packaging life cycle.
Eco-friendly glues benefit the environment in the following ways:
- Recyclable and reusable
- Made with natural ingredients
- Nearly tasteless and odorless
- Competitively priced
Most animal glue is made with recycled soft gel netting or gelatin, which results in a natural protein-based adhesive. The resulting glue can be recycled easily for use in further recyclable packaging through hydro-pulping, which pulps the glue in a water-based process.
The fact that most animal and eco-friendly glues are made from naturally occurring ingredients like sugar, starch, polyols, and salt, which are all water-soluble, means they're great for use in sustainable packaging. Some glues used in biodegradable packaging can decompose easily if they also find their way into the environment. Allowing eco-friendly glue to be recycled, reused, or biodegraded naturally is a huge win for the health of the planet and all life on it.
The Benefits of Using Eco-Friendly Adhesives for Sustainable Packaging
LD Davis sustainable packaging glues are great for supporting sustainability best practices in creating and manufacturing a variety of products, which is something that many consumers are beginning to pay attention to as they align with their favorite environmentally conscious brands in the marketplace.
We have been making eco-friendly, non-toxic, repulpable, recyclable, and biodegradable adhesives long before it was fashionable to be “green." To do this, we recycle, or upcycle, millions of pounds of waste gelatin from nutritional and pharmaceutical manufacturers—all products designed to be easily dissolved and digested.
A Closer-Look at Gelatin Adhesive
Pharmaceutical gel netting before recycling.
Gelatin is a protein derived from its parent protein, collagen. It is a hydrophilic colloid in an aqueous solution, nearly tasteless and odorless, vitreous and brittle as a solid, and typically faint yellow in color. The glue is graded according to its strength or bloom, with a higher bloom indicating a higher grade.
Gelatin is an essential part of the manufacturing process for many LD Davis solutions. In the 1970s, we actively worked to replace the primary raw material in our gelatin glues with recycled pharmaceutical and nutritional gelatin in the form of soft gel netting and hard ground caps. The gelatin we use today is inspected for quality as part of our 12-point quality control system for all incoming raw materials and outgoing finished products in our on-site laboratory.
Why is it important to use recycled gelatin material?
Pharmaceutical and nutritional companies produce significant excess gelatin that would typically be disposed of in landfills. LD Davis takes pride in our effort to reduce waste and help the environment by recycling these materials for our glue products. In doing so, we gain a high-quality raw material source, and these companies successfully eliminate a waste stream.
From this practice, LD Davis has quickly become the largest purchaser of recycled gelatin in the United States. We pride ourselves on manufacturing eco-friendly, non-toxic, and recyclable glues, and the use of recycled gelatin lets us continue to produce high-quality products that meet these standards.
Bringing It All Together
Eco-friendly glues are the strong bond that will bring sustainable and biodegradable packaging to the forefront. As plastics are continually phased out due to their negative, long-term environmental impacts, biodegradable and sustainable packaging will continue to be refined with eco-friendly glues and adhesives. Eco-friendly glue's ability to be recycled or composted will positively affect the environment, plants, and animals.
Not all eco-friendly glue is created equal. However, some use harmful fillers or other additives that negate the positive environmental effect they would otherwise have when coupled with biodegradable and sustainable materials.
Factors to Consider When Selecting Eco-Friendly Adhesive
- Non-toxic, biodegradable, recyclable, and repulpable
- Safe to handle
- FDA approved for indirect food contact
- Reduce waste and conserves resources
- Water soluble
- Excellent bonding
Contact us for more information.