Biodegradable Lunch Boxes – A New Way To Dine Sustainably

  • Post category:Blog
  • Post last modified:February 26, 2024

The general purpose of a lunch box is to give us a convenient means of carrying our meals from one destination to another. Plastic has been the main component of these disposable lunch boxes for decades. By taking this material for granted, we have, unfortunately, created problems for ourselves and our planet.

Plastic is non-biodegradable. This means that instead of decomposing, it breaks down into microplastics, which pose a threat to any animals that consume them.

Furthermore, plastics leach hazardous chemicals such as phthalates, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and bisphenol A (BPA) into your food. When consumed, these chemicals will have detrimental effects on the human body.

For example, acute (short-term) exposure to PVC can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches, while chronic (long-term) exposure results in liver damage. PVC exposure may even increase the risk of receiving a rare form of liver cancer in humans.

Meanwhile, exposure to BPA has negative health effects on the brain and prostate gland development of fetuses, infants, and children, as well as possible impacts on children’s behavior. Research has even found potential links between BPA and occurrences of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, innovations have led to the development of disposable lunch boxes made from natural, biodegradable materials that are safe for both people and the environment.

What is a biodegradable lunch box?

Biodegradable lunch boxes are disposable takeaway food containers made from materials that are naturally decomposed via microbial action. Because of this trait, products made from biodegradable matter will not persist in the environment and, thus, won’t pose a long-term threat.

These lunch boxes can come as clamshell containers for easy carrying or as multi-compartment bento boxes for keeping your meal’s components separate.

What are biodegradable lunch boxes made of?

Biodegradable disposable lunch boxes can be made from a wide variety of plant matter. Here are some examples of plant-derived materials used in making lunch boxes:


Paper is one of the most common plant-based materials used to make biodegradable containers and packaging, including lunch boxes. The process of making paper packaging is as follows:

  1. Pulp (derived from wood or recycled paper) is put through a pulper, where fibers are disintegrated into a usable form.
  2. Impurities such as plastics, glass, or metals are removed through multiple cleaning and screening processes.
  3. The paper fibers are pumped onto a fast-moving screen, forming paper or board.
  4. Moisture is removed from the boards before it is rolled up or cut into sheets.
  5. To make packaging or lunch boxes, sheets are cut into shapes that can be folded up into a box-life form.

Bamboo fiber

Bamboo (subfamily Bambusoideae) is a tall treelike plant that is part of the grass family and has hollow woody ringed stems, known as culms. They are typically grown in tropical and subtropical regions, with the highest number of species in East and Southeast Asia.

Photo by Emre Orkun KESKIN

Bamboo has quickly become a chief component in manufacturing eco-friendly goods, being  100% biodegradable and compostable in approximately 2 to 6 months.

Bamboo can also produce 35% more oxygen in comparison to trees of an equivalent mass and can absorb over 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Other than that, it can be grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides and little water, thanks to its pest-resistant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Most disposable bamboo products are made from the sheath or the outer layer of the bamboo stem. When the plant reaches a certain age, the sheath naturally falls off.

  1. The sheath is collected right after it hits the ground.
  2. It is then cleaned, boiled, and finally laminated.
  3. Once it’s laminated, the sheath is pressed into the desired box shape.

While made to be disposable, these products can often be reused several times. Some are even dishwasher-safe.

Sturdier products are made using the whole bamboo plant instead.

  1. When a bamboo plant reaches maturity, it is chopped down and ground into a fine powder.
  2. Manufacturers use a patented process to mold this powder into virtually any shape or size, including lunch boxes or food packaging.

The end result of this process is a durable yet biodegradable bamboo product that can be reused multiple times throughout its lifespan before disposal.

Compared to paper, bamboo does not require the same chemical inputs and, in fact, uses fewer chemicals than normal paper.

Read more: Bamboo Products: The Eco-Friendly Choice For Sustainability

Sugarcane bagasse

Sugarcane bagasse or fiber is the byproduct of the sugar industry. It is a dry, fibrous pulp left behind after a sugarcane stalk has all of its juices extracted.

Sugarcane Fibre or Sugarcane Bagasse
source: Wikipedia

Originally treated as a waste product, sugarcane bagasse has seen new life as a material for manufacturing biodegradable goods. Lunch boxes made from bagasse, from clamshell containers to bento boxes, already exist.

Here are the steps that go into sugarcane fiber extraction and its subsequent conversion into biodegradable packaging:

  1. First, harvested sugarcane stalks have all their juice and nutritional components extracted. Only the bagasse fibers remain after the extraction.
  2. Next, the fibers are finely blended with water. This process creates a pulp with a consistency similar to wood pulp.
  3. Additives are mixed in with the pulp before being pressed into the shape of a packaging product by applying pressure and high temperatures.
  4. Once cooled and set, the resulting packaging is removed from its mold and prepared for transport and sale.

Read more:


Cornstarch (or corn flour as it is known in the UK) is a flour-like substance made using starch extracted from corn grain, specifically from the corn kernel’s endosperm. It is almost 100% starch without fiber, protein, fat, or other components.

Cornstarch Food Packaging

It appears as a very fine, chalky white powder and’ squeaks’ when you rub it between your fingers.

Traditionally, cornstarch is a thickening agent in sauces and custards and a crucial component in gluten-free baking.

Recently, cornstarch has become vital in the production of sustainable, biodegradable plastic and styrofoam substitutes.

Lunch boxes can be made using polylactic acid (PLA) extracted from cornstarch to produce a plastic-like material (bioplastics).

Cornstarch plastic has all the qualities that make petroleum-based plastics popular. However, it is more environmentally friendly and sustainable as it uses plant starch in its production.

Additionally, this bioplastic can be made opaque or transparent and is easily molded to fit various practical applications.

The process of creating lunch boxes from cornstarch is as follows:

  1. Corn is harvested and soaked to separate the endosperm from the fiber and gluten. The corn kernels are then immersed in hot water and sulfur dioxide solution, breaking it down into starch, protein, and fiber.
  2. The liquid melange is centrifuged to remove the corn oil, leaving behind pure starch.
  3. Enzymes are added to the cornstarch, converting it into simple sugars.
  4. Bacterial cultures are introduced into the sugars, fermenting it into lactic acid. The lactide molecules in the acid bond together to form polymer chains, resulting in polylactic acid.
  5. Pellets of PLA plastic are produced from this mixture. They are then melted down and molded into specific shapes for various applications.
  6. Once set and cooled, the finished packaging is removed from its mold and ready for transport and sale.

Read more:

Paddy straw

Rice or paddy straw is the dried leaves and stalks left behind after the rice grains are harvested. Originally, these straws were considered to be a worthless byproduct and were, thus, unceremoniously burnt after each harvest.

paddy straw

Like sugarcane bagasse, however, paddy straw has seen new life as a biodegradable alternative to plastic. This utilization of a highly abundant but previously untapped resource also creates a circular economy where nothing goes to waste.

Making biodegradable lunch boxes out of paddy straw is as follows:

  1. The straw is collected, chopped up, and boiled in hot water. After several hours, it is turned into a pulp.
  2. The pulp is then spread out on a board and dried up. Once all moisture is removed, the result is a type of paper.
  3. The paddy straw paper is finally molded into a desirable shape.

What can biodegradable lunch boxes be used for?

Regardless of the material used, biodegradable lunch boxes are well-suited to fill the needs of their users. Here are some of the roles these lunch boxes can play:

  • Takeaway: Disposable lunch boxes are primarily used for takeaway. Moreover, bagasse, cornstarch, and paddy straw lunch boxes are oil-resistant and capable of holding hot meals, making them especially well-suited for this role.
  • Delivery: Biodegradable lunch boxes are lightweight enough for delivery drivers to carry comfortably. Those made from bagasse, cornstarch, and paddy straw are also quite durable, ensuring that your meals are well protected during their travels.
  • Picnics: Whether they’re made from bagasse, cornstarch, or paddy straw, biodegradable lunch boxes are an excellent choice for carrying meals to picnics or outings.
  • Parties and events: For parties or events where guests would like to carry their food around, using biodegradable lunch boxes is a good option.
  • Food trucks: Biodegradable lunch boxes can store any food and are easy to carry around. These traits make them the perfect choice for food truck owners.

Advantages and disadvantages of biodegradable lunch boxes

Before business owners can start buying biodegradable lunch boxes in bulk, they must weigh the pros and cons of using these products.


Using biodegradable lunch boxes has many different advantages beneficial to businesses, consumers, and the environment:

  • Biodegradable: First and foremost, these lunch boxes are mostly made from plant-derived materials and largely do not contain any non-biodegradable chemicals. This enables them to be decomposed by microorganisms without leaching harmful chemicals into the environment.
  • Compostable: Bagasse, cornstarch, and bamboo lunch boxes can be sent to commercial composting facilities to be composted into eco-friendly fertilizer.

Read: Biodegradable vs compostable products

  • Renewable: Rice and corn are staple crops widely grown around the world, while sugarcane and bamboo grow much faster than trees. Additionally, as paddy straw and bagasse are byproducts, their collection poses no threat to food supplies.
  • Recyclable: Biodegradable lunch boxes can also be recycled at dedicated facilities, extending their lifespan. Bagasse lunch boxes are even safe to recycle together with cardboard.
  • Low carbon footprint: Some paper packaging is made from recycled materials, reducing the consumption of raw, heavy-energy resources. Additionally, paddy straw, bamboo leaves, and sugarcane bagasse are lightweight. Thus, their transportation has a lower carbon footprint compared to heavier materials like wood.
  • Versatility: Biodegradable clamshell lunch boxes are large and sturdy enough to keep all manners of food, including fried rice, noodles, burger sets, and even cakes. At the same time, bento boxes can be used for both Japanese and Western meals.
  • Durability: Cornstarch, bagasse, paddy straw, and bamboo lunch boxes are incredibly sturdy, making them well-suited for holding large amounts of food.
  • Oil-resistance: Cornstarch and bagasse packaging are highly resistant to oils and fats. This makes them a great choice for keeping greasy foods like fried noodles.
  • Heat-resistance: Cornstarch, bagasse, and paddy straw lunch boxes can store hot meals for up to 48 hours without losing durability.
  • Aesthetically pleasing: Paddy straw lunch boxes have a naturally brown color that helps make meals stand out.
  • Zero toxins and allergens: Unlike plastics, most biodegradable packaging is non-toxic and uses allergy-free materials. This reduces the environmental burden and makes it safer to store food.
  • Improves brand image: As customers become more eco-conscious, many businesses have made the switch to sustainability to enhance their brand image. Using biodegradable lunch boxes is one way of advertising your commitment to a greener world.
  • Reduces cost: By switching to biodegradable materials, you can successfully reduce packaging waste by cutting down on excessive space. Moreover, unlike heavy-energy resources, biodegradable packaging is lightweight, reducing transportation and importing costs.
  • Space efficient: Biodegradable lunch boxes are easy to stack up, making storage and transportation easier. Additionally, paper lunch boxes can be folded flat for easier storage.


While there are many advantages to using biodegradable lunch boxes, there are also some disadvantages:

  • High initial costs: Switching to biodegradable products can be expensive for businesses. This may be due to the more costly materials, the need to switch to new production methods, or the lower number of infrastructure.
  • Food supply problems: Corn is a staple crop used to feed large populations. Using it in manufacturing packaging may interfere with food supply lines.
  • Proper disposal required: Most biodegradable materials, such as cornstarch or bamboo, have specific disposal requirements. Failing to meet those requirements may result in cross-contamination of recycling streams.
  • Paper may require coating: Paper lunch boxes are less resilient to moisture or oil than other materials. Thus, it may require coatings. These coatings may not be biodegradable or may contain toxic substances that can leach into your foods.

Where can you buy biodegradable lunch boxes?

Biodegradable lunch boxes are available to purchase at all major shopping websites, such as Shoppee.

cornstarch containers


Are there any toxic substances used in biodegradable lunch boxes?

Cornstarch, bagasse, bamboo, and paddy straw do not contain any harmful substances by themselves and are largely safe to use in food packaging.

Nonetheless, care must be taken when sourcing your materials, as non-food grade crops may be contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic substances.

Likewise, paper lunch boxes may be covered with a water- and oil-repellent coating. This coating may contain toxic chemicals that can leach into your meals.

Can you compost biodegradable lunch boxes at home?

Certain materials like bagasse can be composted in your compost pile or bin. Others, such as cornstarch, have longer composting periods. Thus, they should be sent to a commercial composting facility instead.

Are biodegradable lunch boxes better than plastic?

Yes. Unlike disposable plastic lunch boxes, which can take years to break down, biodegradable lunch boxes will decompose within a few months. This means less waste in our landfills and oceans.

They can even be composted into fertilizers, which in turn are used to revitalize soils, creating a circular economy system.

Additionally, biodegradable lunch boxes are sourced from renewable plant resources, ensuring that they will see continued use in the future. They may even completely supplant plastics once our oil reserves run dry.

Are biodegradable lunch boxes sustainable?

Biodegradable lunch boxes have the potential to become fully sustainable.

They are made from plant-derived materials that are widely available and highly abundant. Additionally, they are biodegradable, meaning that they will be decomposed into harmless basic sugars by the actions of microorganisms.

Currently, there are problems with using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and deforestation. However, greater investment will eventually lead to solutions for these problems.

Are paper lunch bags biodegradable?

Yes, but only if they are non-coated and made from Kraft or recycled paper. Bags made from porous, non-coated paper are excellent for home composting as they break down quickly and add carbon to the heap.

Are biodegradable lunch boxes microwave-safe?

Certain biodegradable lunch boxes are safe to put in the microwave. You can tell if it’s microwave-safe by looking at the label or item description on the online store page.

Are biodegradable lunch boxes freezer-safe?

Bagasse and bamboo are resilient to low temperatures, making them suitable for freezer storage.

Cornstarch, on the other hand, has limited low-temperature resistance, making it less suitable for freezer storage. While paper is considered not safe for the freezer.

Are biodegradable lunch boxes flammable?

Some materials like cornstarch have low flammability, reducing their fire hazard risk.

Others, such as paper, bamboo, or bagasse, have a greater chance of catching fire. Thus, care should be taken when storing them.

What is the most environmentally friendly food packaging?

Out of all the biodegradable plant-derived food packaging available, bamboo can be seen as one of the most environmentally friendly options.

Bamboo food packaging is durable and aesthetically pleasing while also being 100% biodegradable and compostable.

Additionally, bamboo is a fast-growing plant that does not require many pesticides or fertilizers; thus, its agriculture has a low impact on the environment.

The future of biodegradable lunch boxes

Disposable lunch boxes made from biodegradable plant materials are already widely available in stores and shopping websites globally.

They are lightweight and highly versatile, able to safely store all manner of foodstuff, from burgers to noodles. Further, their high heat and oil resistance makes them excellent choices for carrying hot or greasy meals.

Whether it’s daily food deliveries or big dining events, using these biodegradable lunch boxes in your brand’s operations will not only improve its image but also raise awareness of its existence, especially amongst children.

With petroleum supplies doomed to run out in the foreseeable future, biodegradable lunch boxes will have an even more vital role to play. Further developments in their manufacturing process will lead to improved production, lower costs, and greater sustainability and eco-friendliness.

Overall, it is clear that biodegradable lunch boxes are here to stay, so there’s no excuse not to make the shift towards it.

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