Nathan Dube

By: Nathan Dube on May 12th, 2020

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Biodegradable VS Plastic Shrink Film: Pros And Cons

Packaging Materials | Environment

Think back before the arrival of COVID19. Many people were reducing their use of plastic products. Plastic shopping bags, single-use containers, and packaging were all being slowly fazed out.


Shortly after the arrival of the pandemic, however, things changed—the EPA relaxed environmental protections. And then, some states banned reusable bags. In their place, the resurgent single-use plastics.


This move was a complete 180 in plastic consumption trends to that point. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a big comeback of single-use plastics.


The packaging industry was no different. There was an initial boost of interest in bio-based shrink films before the arrival of the pandemic. But, after COVID arrived, many companies switched back to traditional plastic films.


You might be thinking that plastics are all bad. But, you might be surprised to learn about the real pros and cons of plastic shrink film. But, which type of film is right for you? Bio-based film or plastic film?


With over six decades in the packaging industry, Industrial Packaging has learned a lot about shrink films. During that time, we have found that sometimes, traditional plastics are actually the better choice. And, sometimes, bio-films would make more sense for specific applications.


This article will take a look at the pros and cons of biodegradable films and plastic films. As a result, you’ll have a better understanding of each product. And, you will be able to make an informed decision about the proper film for your needs.




What Are The Pros And Cons Of Biodegradable Shrink Films?



Pros Of Biodegradable Shrink Films


  •  Earth-friendly
  •  Appealing to consumers
  •  Biodegradable


Biodegradable Shrink Film Is Appealing To Consumers


Many consumers are focused on trying to reduce the harm to our planet earth. As such, biodegradable plastic alternatives are quickly becoming popular in Google searches. Just as it is with other types of bio-based plastic alternatives, bio-films are becoming very popular with consumers and are highly marketable to those seeking "green" options.



Bio-Based Shrink Film Is Earth-Friendly


Bio-polymer-based films like Nature Star are made from plants. Nurel is another brand of biodegradable plant-based film alternative. These products are made from biopolymers. And, they are the earth-friendly "plastics" of the emerging modern world.





Bio-Films Are Biodegradable


These materials have a similar physical texture and aesthetic to traditional plastics. But, they are created from plant-based, biodegradable, and sustainable compounds. These compounds break down naturally into their plant-based byproducts.



This process happens much faster than traditional plastics. Traditional plastics can take over thousand years to break down. And, this results in the presence of micro-plastics in our water sources.


For the environmentally minded, biopolymer-based films may seem like a godsend. Some might even call them a miracle. This cutting-edge technology might be both of those things. But, there are some drawbacks to using these bio-polymer-based film alternatives.


Cons Of Biodegradable Shrink Films


  •  More expensive than plastic film
  •  Not tested on many applications yet
  •  Requires in-home or industrial composting


Bio-Films Are Generally More Expensive Than Traditional Shrink Films


Bio-polymer-based shrink films like those detailed above are few and far between. There are currently only a few brands available. And they can be pricey when compared to traditional plastic films.



Biodegradable Shrink Films Have Not Been Tested Extensively In Real World Applications


These bio-films are not commonly used on many packaging lines the world over (yet). So, these new materials have not been put to the test in many real-world applications. It is unclear if they will be able to offer the same qualities that plastic film provides. Those qualities include strength, clarity, gloss, haze, and other related elements.


Bio-Films Require Home Based Or Industrial Composting

While many people think you can just toss bioplastics and bio-based films on the side of the road or in the woods to decompose, this is not true. To get the ecological benefits from these materials, you need to compost them properly.


That means they must be composted at an industrial composting site or a home-based composting pile. If they are not properly disposed of in one of the ways above, they will not biodegrade properly. Additionally, bio-films are not recyclable. If they are tossed into the recycling, they will be removed and thrown in a landfill.



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What Are The Pros And Cons Of Traditional Plastic Shrink Films?



Pros Of Traditional Plastic Shrink Films

  •  Easy to source
  •  Recyclable
  •  Enhances shelf appeal
  •  Time tested and approved for many applications


Plastic Shrink Film Is Easier To Source


Plastic shrink films are easy to source. Even with the disruptions in the global supply chain, they are easier to obtain than their biodegradable counterparts.


Plastic Shrink Films Are Time Tested And Approved For Many Applications

Plastic films are trusted and well-known packaging materials. These films have stood the test of time. They are currently used on millions of packaging lines worldwide.





Plastic Shrink Films Are Recyclable


There are well-known environmental issues with most flexible packaging plastics. But, they still have significantly less of an ecological impact than the most popular alternatives. This is due to their much lower carbon footprint than many forms of rigid packaging.


When it comes to flexible packaging supplies, plastic films are some of the most environmentally friendly packaging materials currently available.



Unfortunately, many people do not realize that shrink films are entirely recyclable. Depending on the volume of film being recycled, some companies may even be able to make a profit from recycling their used films!



Shrink Film Enhances Shelf Appeal

Wrapping your products in shrink film is an easy way to boost shelf appeal. The glossy and reflective surface of plastic shrink films produces an eye-catching shimmer under store lights. If your products glisten on store shelves and your competitors do not, who do you think the consumer will reach for first?



Cons Of Traditional Plastic Shrink Films


  •  Complicated to recycle
  •  Made of plastic (decreasing in popularity with consumers)
  •  Not suitable for highly heat sensitive products
  •  Related machinery can be expensive


Plastic Shrink Film Is Complicated To Recycle

Again, while plastic films are recyclable, many people are unaware of this. As a result, they end up in landfills. And, they find their way to waterways, rivers, streams, and eventually, the ocean. In this way, they contribute to a growing problem with ocean plastics.



Plastic Shrink Film Is Not Good For Ultra Heat Sensitive Products

Furthermore, there are some types of products that should not be packaged in shrink film. These products include any product that can not withstand the heat of a shrink tunnel. If your products are very heat sensitive, it is ill-advised to use shrink film to package them.



rolls of shrink film standing up with white backround



Plastic Shrink Film Machinery Can Be Expensive


Shrink films are relatively inexpensive materials. But, the machinery required to use them properly is not. The range of investments for shrink tunnels and sealers can range from $10,000 - $100,000.



Do you have the budget or financing capabilities to make such large purchases? If not, shrink film may not make sense for your packaging needs. That being said, you can do small runs of products with a heat gun or table-top shrink tunnel. These types of machinery would cost you significantly less.



Plastics Are Becoming Less Popular With Consumers


Despite the unpopular truth about plastic shrink films, consumers are continually calling upon corporations to discontinue the use of plastic packaging. As consumer demands to ban plastics in an effort to reduce damages to our oceans increases, plastic is becoming less and less appealing over time.



Which Type Of Film Is Right For You?



When trying to decide between bio-films and plastic films, you need to make a few decisions. Some of the questions that you’ll want to ask yourself are:


  • Is the type of film you want to use going to be available regularly? Right now, the supply chain is tight. Plastic shrink film made in the USA has the best availability.
  • What are you willing to spend on materials in exchange for less of an environmental impact? If you are open to spending more to save the earth, bio-films are your best choice.
  • How are your consumers going to react to your choice of material? If your customers are heavily environmentally minded, bio-films are a better choice.
  •  Can you afford longer lead times? If you answered no, you would want to stick with plastic film.
  •  Do you have access to a home or industrial compost facility? If you answered no, you would want to stick to plastic film.



Where Can You Learn More About Shrink Film?



Now that you have all the information required to choose between biodegradable shrink film and plastic shrink film, you have another choice to make. Are you going to purchase domestic shrink film or foreign-made shrink film?


Are you curious to know what the difference between these two options is? Would you like to know more about the pros and cons associated with each option? If you would like to learn more, we would suggest that you read Domestic Shrink Film VS Imported Shrink Film: Which Is Right For You?


With the information in the article above, you will be able to figure out which choice makes the most sense for your unique packaging requirements.


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About Nathan Dube

As the Digital Marketing Specialist at Industrial Packaging, I am honored to create content for such a phenomenal company and work with one of the greatest teams in the Packaging Industry. Whether creating a video, writing blog posts or generating other pieces of content and multimedia, I am always excited to help educate and inspire our prospects and clients to reach their highest potential in regards to their packaging processes and needs.