Cellulose Bags For Food Packaging: Unwrapping The Future

  • Post category:Blog
  • Post last modified:February 22, 2024

Plastic bags are a modern convenience that we take for granted far too often. Because of this, few people realize the dangers improper disposal of these bags can bring.

Plastic bags ending up in our lakes, rivers, or oceans are mistaken for food by animals. These animals will end up choking on the bag as they attempt to swallow it, or it will remain in their stomachs, causing digestive problems.

And like other plastic garbage, these bags will break down into microplastics. Animals will consume these microscopic shreds, causing increasing build-up down the food chain. And if we eat these animals, the microplastics will also end up in us.

Fortunately, plant-derived substitutes are already on the market. Enter cellulose, a rising star within the ever-growing sustainable shopping trend.

cellulose bags

What is cellulose?

Cellulose is an organic carbohydrate polymer that makes up the cell walls of plants and algae. This makes it the most abundant biopolymer on Earth.

Although animals do not produce cellulose, the polymer is vital to their survival. For instance, many insects use it as food or building material.

Cellulose is also used as a biopolymer to manufacture environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic or styrofoam products due to its abundance and stiffness.

Most importantly, cellulose is a renewable resource, unlike petroleum.

Wood pulp, derived from trees, is the most common source of cellulose. But it can also be sourced from agricultural waste. And our farms are already producing all the cellulose we need for our manufacturing needs.

Thus, when the Earth’s fossil fuel deposits are inevitably depleted, nature and agriculture will provide better alternatives.

Read also: Cellulose Packaging: A Biodegradable Alternative

What is cellophane, and what is used for?

Cellophane is a thin, transparent, plastic-like film made from cellulose. It is used to make bags of various sizes to wrap gift products such as flower bouquets and gift baskets. It is also used to store small snacks like candies, nuts, popcorn, and chocolate.

However, cellophane has recently become a viable replacement for plastic bags.

How is cellophane made?

Cellophane is derived from the cellulose of plants such as cotton, wood, or hemp. It starts off as a white pulp comprising 92%–98% cellulose. This raw cellulose pulp undergoes the following four steps to be converted into cellophane:

  1. The cellulose undergoes mercerization, the process of being dissolved in an alkali (basic, ionic salt of an alkaline metal) solution, before being aged for several days.
  2. Carbon disulfide is added to the mercerized pulp, converting it into cellulose xanthate or viscose.
  3. Sodium sulfate and dilute sulfuric acid are applied to the solution, turning it back into cellulose.
  4. The cellulose film then undergoes three more washes, removing the sulfur, bleaching the film, and finally adding glycerin for durability.

The result is a cellophane film that can be shaped and cut into bags of different sizes to suit various practical applications.

What else can be made from cellulose?

In addition to cellophane, cellulose can be used to make tubular netting for carrying fruits and vegetables. These serve as an alternative to plastic netting.

These nets are made from a cellulose-based material sourced from sustainably grown wood with no added petrochemicals or heavy metals. This material is more durable and long-lasting than disposable plastic bags, with the added benefits of reusability, biodegradability, and compostability.

Uses of cellulose bags

Whether it is cellophane or tube netting, the cellulose bags can serve a variety of practical purposes in food packaging and beyond:

  • Snack packaging: Cellophane bags are commonly used for packaging sweets, nuts, biscuits, and other snacks.
  • Tea and herb packaging: Cellophane is also great for storing herbs or tea leaves due to its low moisture and bacteria permeability.
  • Bread packaging: Cellophane can protect your sourdough loaves from dirt, moisture, and microbes.
  • Hygiene products: Cellophane bags are excellent for keeping soaps free from dirt, moisture, or fingerprints. Meanwhile, cellulose tube nets provide a durable option for carrying shampoo bottles.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Cellulose tube nets offer a more eco-friendly option for carrying your fruits and vegetables.
  • Seafood: Cellulose tube nets can also be used to carry frozen fish and shellfish. The mesh provides both easy visibility of the contents and breathability – preserving the quality of seafood.
  • Toys and gifts: Cellophane and cellulose tube nets are both great options for packaging toys and other gift products. The transparency of the cellophane and the mesh-like structure of the tube netting allows for easy visibility of the contents, allowing for excellent displays.
  • Market stalls: Cellophane bags are ideal for carrying and displaying business or stationery cards, gallery prints, hair accessories, jewelry, badges, and other market stall items.

Advantages and disadvantages of cellulose bags

The pros of using cellulose bags are numerous. But they are not perfect, and both consumers and businesses must be aware of the cons as well.


Cellulose bags, such as cellophane, offer an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags in food packaging. Among its many benefits are:

  • Sustainable: Cellulose is a sustainable product sourced from abundant renewable resources such as agricultural waste.
  • Biodegradable: Cellulose bags can decompose in the environment without leaving harmful waste behind.
  • Compostable: Cellophane is a compostable plastic that can be safely placed in your compost pile at home or in a public compost bin without requiring specialized facilities or processes.

Read: Biodegradable vs compostable products

  • Low-cost: Cellulose is derived from the byproducts of the paper industry. This makes it cheaper than other eco-friendly materials.
  • Lightweight: Cellophane and cellulose tube nets are both extremely lightweight and, thus, easy to carry around. This makes them suitable for carrying around fruits, snacks, and other items that do not require heavy-duty packaging.
  • Versatility: Both cellophane bags and cellulose tube netting can be used to carry or store various products, ranging from little candies to bigger goods.
  • Moisture-resistant: Cellophane bags coated with nitrocellulose or wax resist moisture and water vapors, protecting foodstuff from moisture damage.
  • Oil-resistant: Cellophane bags naturally resist oils and fats. This makes them great for baked goods, nuts, and other greasy foods.
  • Dirt-resistant: Cellophane bags protect both foods and other items from dirt, dust, and fingerprints.
  • Heat sealable: Cellophane is heat sealable. With an electrical pulse sealer, you can quickly and easily heat seal and protect food products stored in cellophane bags.
  • Freezer-safe: Some brands of cellophane film bags can be safely stored in the freezer, extending the shelf life of the food kept in it.

cellulose bags for frozen healthy food


Despite their advantages, cellulose bags do have some limitations:

  • Breathability: While the breathability of cellulose bags is good for keeping foodstuff fresh, it is less beneficial for long-term storage.
  • Low shelf life: Cellophane has a low shelf life itself, becoming discolored within a few months.
  • Fragility: The thinness of cellophane film makes it more susceptible to tearing. While cellulose tube netting is more durable, it is not well-suited for heavier items.
  • Moisture-absorbent: Using uncoated cellophane film with fresh foods is not recommended as it will absorb the moisture and spoil.

Where can I purchase cellulose bags?

Cellophane bags are readily available at all major online retailers, such as Shopee, or in bulk supply shops like Mr. DIY.

Cellulose tube netting is also readily available globally.


Is cellophane environmentally friendly?

Yes. True cellophane is made from sustainably sourced cellulose (either from sustainably grown trees or agricultural waste). Its biodegradability ensures that the cellophane will break down into harmless simple sugars.

Be aware! In the U.S.A., cellophane is used as a generic term for other transparent films such as PVC and polypropylene. Neither of these plastics are biodegradable!

Is cellophane toxic?

No. True cellophane is non-toxic. Be aware that some cellophane products may have additives or coatings that may be harmful to people or the environment.

Is cellophane biodegradable?

Yes. True cellophane is biodegradable due to being made out of plant cellulose.

You must be aware of any additives or coatings added to the cellulose, such as polyethylene. While these additives can improve durability and water resistance and allow the cellophane to be heat-sealed, they may not be biodegradable.

Is cellophane compostable?

Yes. True cellophane can be composted. While some brands are home-compostable, others are better suited for commercial composting facilities.

Do note, however, that this depends on the additives added to the cellophane. And while some additives are biodegradable, they may not be compostable!

Remember, compostable means that a material can be processed into usable compost. Biodegradable only implies that a material can be biologically broken down.

As such, packaging listed as biodegradable may not be compostable (but all compostable packaging is biodegradable!)

Is cellophane recyclable?

No. Cellophane is non-recyclable.

How long does it take for cellophane to decompose?

Research shows that the time it takes for cellophane to biodegrade varies depending on whether it is coated or not.

While an uncoated film only takes ten days to 1 month to degrade when buried, a film coated with nitrocellulose (a mixture of nitric esters of cellulose used in lacquering) will degrade in approximately 2 to 3 months.

In a freshwater environment, an uncoated film will biodegrade within ten days, while coated cellulose film can take up to a month.

Is cellophane sustainable?

Cellophane (as well as cellulose as a whole) is considered more sustainable than petroleum-based plastics. It is biodegradable, sourced from renewable resources, and has a lower carbon footprint.

Is cellophane better than plastic?

Cellophane has been seen as a more sustainable alternative to plastic. It has some of the benefits that plastic provides (e.g., transparency, lightweight, etc.) while simultaneously being biodegradable, compostable, and sourced from a renewable resource.

However, cellophane is more expensive to produce than plastics and has a poor shelf life.

Nonetheless, its many advantages ensure that cellophane will become a better investment in the foreseeable future.

Is cellophane expensive?

No. In terms of pricing, cellophane is easily the cheapest biodegradable material available on the market. It is, however, still more expensive to produce than petroleum-based plastics.

Regardless, its low cost, combined with the inevitable price hikes of plastic, makes cellophane and other cellulose-based substances incredibly cost-effective.

Is cellophane flammable?

Yes. Cellophane film is highly flammable, forming ash when burned and smelling like burnt paper.

DO NOT put cellophane bags next to an open flame or another object prone to fire risks.

Is cellophane microwave-safe?

If you are still determining if cellophane film is microwave-safe, check the labeling to see if it is listed as such.

Is cellophane freezer safe?

Yes. Certain brands produce freezer-safe cellophane bags.

Be aware that not every cellophane film is freezer-safe. Be sure to check the labeling or product description for confirmation.

Is cellophane waterproof?

No. Cellophane, by itself, is not 100% waterproof. As such, it requires a nitrocellulose or wax coating to protect it and its contents from water or moisture damage.

Can cellulose replace plastic in shopping bags and food packaging?

Cellulose has the potential to replace petroleum-based plastics in our shopping bags and food packaging.

Currently, however, production is too expensive and limited to make this possible in the short run.

Improvements are being made, however, and we might be seeing cheaper and more efficient cellulose production in the long run.

Cellulose’s future in food packaging

Cellulose has grown popular as an eco-friendly plastic substitute in food packaging and beyond. This isn’t surprising when considering the similarities between cellulose and plastic, combined with the benefits of the former, including abundance, sustainability, and biodegradability.

Its lower costs compared to competitors in the biodegradable plastic replacement market also make cellulose a superb choice for smaller businesses that wish to remain environmentally friendly.

While cellulose still has its limitations, its ever-growing popularity means that more investment will be put into its manufacturing and development. Through these developments, cellulose will become a truly sustainable replacement for plastic in the known future.

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