20th of January 2022Product news

Aqueous or "Plastic-Free Cups": Why We Are Proceeding with Caution

There are a number of companies in Australia and New Zealand marketing “Plastic Free” Cups. These cups are in fact not plastic free.


For years, BioPak has worked to educate businesses and the general public on the unsustainable characteristics of plastic and how it has become an unwanted geographic feature of our collective landscape and earth's biosphere. Exposing the truth is a critical step in holding businesses accountable – in the courts, in boardrooms, and in the public eye. We are undertaking the required research regarding aqueous coating formulations in order to protect people and the planet for generations to come.

Industry denial and obstruction are not a thing of the past – they are active and ongoing. And so is our work to expose and confront those denial efforts, including confronting a growing array of plastic free solutions that could potentially have a detrimental impact on the environment and human health.

BioPak is more than just about compostable packaging, we envision a future in which materials are made from sustainably sourced rapidly renewable biological resources, and recycled back to soil. No waste, no plastics or other substances polluting soils. And leaving oil and gas in the ground. As the world focuses on developing a more sustainable circular economy and governments align policy to address plastic pollution, we must remain vigilant and ensure that new materials do not have unintended environmental and human health consequences.

Companies are scrambling to find cost effective and functional replacements for billions of single use plastic products and new solutions are rapidly being deployed. Paper and cardboard have always been part of food packaging, but they have gained prominence in the last year with the introduction of global single use plastic bans. There already are alternatives that aim at reducing the use of plastic laminates on paper in the market, most of which are based on aqueous dispersions.

Many manufacturers of aqueous coatings are reluctant to disclose their formulations for fear of losing a competitive advantage. With only 1% of the more than 40,000 chemicals actually tested for safety, rather than simply accepting that these products are safe for food contact applications, we have initiated our own research into these materials and currently have more questions than answers.

We are working with industry and research organisations to fully understand the potential health and environmental risks of these materials and to find the answers to our questions:

  • Are these materials safe if ingested by humans?
  • Do all the components of aqueous coatings completely biodegrade in an industrial compost facility and do they have any adverse impact on compost quality? 

The impact of packaging waste on the environment can be minimized by prudently selecting materials, and understanding the impact at every stage in the products lifecycle. Knowledgeable efforts by industry, government, and consumers will promote continued improvement, and an understanding of the environmental impact of packaging will ensure that new solutions don’t have an adverse impact on human health and the environment.

There is a potential that all paper cups in Australia and New Zealand are to be made from this material in future. This would result in the use of approximately 800 tonnes of aqueous coatings, this is only one product application and there are many more aqueous coated packaging formats being developed, we must therefore ensure that we proceed with caution.

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