Cornstarch Packaging: An Eco-Friendly Innovation

  • Post category:Blog
  • Post last modified:February 15, 2024

Plastic packaging is a big modern-day convenience., but it has also become a significant threat to our planet’s ecosystems.

Plastic not only takes a long time to degrade, but it also persists as microplastics. Animals consume these tiny shreds, and they are, in turn, eaten by humans, resulting in a build-up down the food chain.

Plant-derived biodegradable substitutes have been created to reduce the amount of plastic packing in our landfills and oceans. Among these substitutes is humble cornstarch.

What is cornstarch?

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.

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 to sustainable, biodegradable plastic and styrofoam substitutes. For instance, cornstarch packaging is being manufactured and used by businesses and consumers globally.

corn flourn or corn starch

What is cornstarch packaging?

Cornstarch packaging is, as the name implies, made using polylactic acid (PLA) extracted from cornstarch to produce a plastic-like material (bioplastics).

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

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

How is cornstarch packaging made?

The process of making cornstarch packaging 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.

Types of cornstarch packaging

Cornstarch can be shaped into different forms and types of packaging to serve various practical purposes:

  • Clamshell containers
  • Meat trays
  • Produce trays
  • Shopping bags
  • Biodegradable mulch films
  • Takeaway containers
  • Cup lids
  • Binliners and garbage bags
  • Resealable food bags
  • Beverage cartons
  • Disposable plates and cups
corn starch packing bag
corn starch packing bag by Shenzhen Hongxiang Packaging Co., Ltd

Uses of cornstarch packaging

One of the best advantages of cornstarch packaging is its versatility. Here are some practical uses of cornstarch packaging:

  • Grocery shopping: Cornstarch plastic can make biodegradable shopping bags, providing an eco-friendly shopping experience at your local grocery store. Some bags are transparent, allowing easy visibility of your shopping contents.
  • Food packaging: Cornstarch food packaging can store various foodstuffs such as nuts, seeds, and even vegetables.
  • Dining events: Cornstarch plates or takeaway containers provide a more sustainable option for dining or catering events.
  • Takeaway or food delivery: Cornstarch packaging is well-suited for takeaway or food delivery due to its non-toxicity and high oil and aroma resistance. Some packaging is even microwave-safe.
  • Apparel and fashion: The fashion industry is one of the primary sources of plastic pollution. Resealable cornstarch plastic bags for containing clothes will help lessen the industry’s environmental footprint. Not only are they strong, but they can also be printed with brand logos or designs.
  • Shipping: Adding plant oils to the cornstarch matrix will improve the resulting packaging’s strength. This, combined with its UV resistance and low flammability, makes it excellent for shipping and delivery.

Advantages and disadvantages of cornstarch packaging

While much more eco-friendly than plastic, cornstarch has its own set of pros and cons.

Advantages of cornstarch

Cornstarch packaging offers a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic and styrofoam due to the following advantages:

  • Renewable: Corn is a staple crop, making it both abundant and readily available.
  • Biodegradable: Cornstarch will naturally break down and decompose into base elements that will not harm the environment like other plant-based materials.
  • Compostable: Cornstarch packaging can be converted into eco-friendly fertilizer at industrial composting facilities as it falls within the criteria of compostable plastics.

Read: Biodegradable vs compostable products.

  • Recyclable: Cornstarch packaging can be recycled at dedicated facilities. The materials derived from it can be used to make other eco-friendly products such as plates or cups.
  • Non-toxic: Does not contain harmful chemicals like dioxin or polyvinyl chloride.
  • Reduced wastage and pollution: Cornstarch is biodegradable and compostable, so it will not take up space in landfills or release harmful substances into the environment.
  • Low carbon emissions: Cornstarch production emits less greenhouse gas than conventional plastic production.
  • Resistant to oils and fats: Suitable for containing oily foods.
  • Resistant to UV: Reliable for products that need to be protected from UV radiation.
  • Low flammability: There is less risk of fire when using cornstarch packaging.
  • High aroma barrier: Prevents food from losing its aromas or being contaminated with unsavory smells.
  • Printer-friendly: Businesses can brand cornstarch packaging without causing harm to the environment while also offering a high-quality customer experience.
  • Increased marketability and brand recognition: Sustainably-minded consumers are drawn towards companies adopting environmentally friendly practices.

Disadvantages of cornstarch

It is, however, vital that you understand the current limitations and disadvantages of switching to cornstarch packaging:

  • Cannot be composted at home: Cornstarch packaging will only decompose under a commercial composting facility’s hot and humid environment. Thus, it cannot be composted in a home compost pile or bin.
  • Recycling contamination: Improper disposal can lead to contamination within the recycling stream.
  • Customer behavior: Most people are unfamiliar with cornstarch packaging and don’t compost or dispose of the material properly. This will lead to cornstarch packaging ending up in landfills or contaminating other recycling streams.
  • Methane gas emissions: If left to decompose in landfills, cornstarch packaging will release methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
  • Acidic: Composting large amounts of cornstarch can make the soil acidic.
  • Limited infrastructure: Because cornstarch as a packaging material is so new, there are currently only a few infrastructures to support its manufacture, composting, or recycling.
  • May affect food production: Being derived from a staple crop, excessive use of cornstarch packaging may disrupt the global food supply chain.
  • High production costs: Cornstarch packaging is expensive, making it impractical for some businesses, especially SMEs and start-ups.

While improvements are being made to address these problems, raising awareness is the best way to resolve these issues.

With greater awareness of this packaging material, consumers will better understand how to properly dispose of their cornstarch packaging, preventing more from entering our landfills.

How to dispose of cornstarch packaging?

Although cornstarch packaging is compostable, it is unsuitable for the home compost heap or bin. Instead, cornstarch plastic trash should be discarded in a dedicated bin. Such bins will have their contents delivered to commercial composting facilities.

These facilities have the specific conditions required to decompose cornstarch plastic products. Specifically, cornstarch plastic decomposes within two months under a high-humidity composting environment at above 60°C (140°F).

Once wholly decomposed, the cornstarch compost will be used to fertilize soils, bolstering their quality without the risk of contaminating them with synthetic chemicals. This, in turn, will improve crop production, including that of corn, creating a circular economy.

How to recycle cornstarch packaging

Cornstarch packaging’s chief advantage over other plant-based plastic substitutes is its ease of recycling.

Cornstarch products must be placed in a separate recycling bin to prevent cross-contamination as they are made from a different material from conventional petroleum-based plastics.

The cornstarch garbage is melted into a polylactic acid resin at specialized recycling facilities. This resin is then molded into new products, extending the longevity of the cornstarch plastic.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to properly send your cornstarch packaging garbage for recycling:

  1. First, check the labelling. Anything marked as PLA is biodegradable and compostable. Thus, it is better to send it to a composting facility.
  2. To recycle cornstarch packaging, it’s essential to separate it from other recyclables to prevent contamination.
  3. Consult your local area authority to see if cornstarch packaging can be accepted in recycling collections.
  4. If unsure, take the cornstarch packaging to a recycling center to recycle it properly.

How much does cornstarch packaging cost?

Initially, cornstarch packaging was quite expensive due to the cost of its materials, limited manufacturing outlets, and specialized processes involved.

Thanks to technological advancements, however, a single piece of cornstarch packaging can cost as little as USD$1 (around RM4).

While still more expensive than plastic packaging, cornstarch is a more cost-effective investment due to the abundant and renewable nature of its resources.

Where can you buy cornstarch packaging?

Cornstarch packaging is available at most online shopping websites, such as Alibaba. You can also buy at specialist eco-friendly shops or packaging suppliers.


Is cornstarch sustainable?

Yes, cornstarch is sustainable. Corn is a renewable resource, unlike oil. As such, it can be regrown to provide all the cornstarch we need.

However, corn farming has its environmental problems, such as soil depletion, deforestation to make space for farmland, and fertilizer pollution.

Improvements in corn farming are required to make cornstarch fully sustainable in the long run.

Can cornstarch plastic be made at home?

Yes. Making cornstarch plastic can be a fun home science project for you and your kids. Just don’t expect to be able to create your packaging and containers, though. Those require specialized facilities and processes.

Is cornstarch packaging recyclable?

Yes. Cornstarch packaging can be recycled, but to prevent contamination of the recycling stream, it must be delivered to a specialized recycling facility.

Is cornstarch packaging biodegradable?

Yes, cornstarch packaging is biodegradable. One of cornstarch’s chief advantages over plastic is that it will be decomposed by the natural action of microorganisms in the soil. This ensures that its base substances are returned to the environment and, thus, leave behind little to no waste.

Is cornstarch packaging compostable?

Yes. Cornstarch packaging can be composted, but only under specific conditions. These conditions cannot be recreated at your home. Thus, delivering cornstarch packaging trash to dedicated composting facilities is better.

How long does it take for cornstarch to decompose?

Cornstarch plastic decomposes within two months in a high-humidity composting environment at 60°C or 140°F.

Is cornstarch packaging eco-friendly?

Cornstarch packaging, being recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable, is far more eco-friendly than conventional petroleum-based plastics.

However, the corn farming industry has its environmental problems, such as deforestation. If improperly disposed of, cornstarch packaging will release methane gas during decomposition.

Is cornstarch better than plastic?

Compared to plastic, cornstarch can be made into a similar material with equal strength, durability, and versatility. Unlike conventional plastics, cornstarch plastic is biodegradable and compostable, and its production has a lower carbon footprint.

These qualities make cornstarch plastic a more environmentally friendly option for consumers and businesses.

Is cornstarch packaging cheaper than plastic?

Currently, cornstarch packaging is not cheaper than plastic. While improvement in the production process has dramatically lowered the costs of cornstarch packaging, it is still more expensive than plastic.

That said, cornstarch is sourced from an abundant and renewable resource, so that it will be a far more cost-effective investment than petroleum-based plastics.

Can cornstarch replace plastic?

Cornstarch offers a very attractive replacement for plastic, especially since it is an abundant and readily available renewable resource.

As the world’s petroleum resources inevitably run out, cornstarch will become even more viable as a plastic replacement.

Is cornstarch packaging waterproof?

While not completely waterproof, cornstarch packaging does offer a degree of water resistance, protecting its contents from light moisture.

However, if exposed to heavy moisture, the packaging will become soggy and unreusable.

Wax or polymer coatings can improve the water resistance of cornstarch packaging without contaminating it with toxic chemicals.

There are also specific formulations of cornstarch that can provide greater water resistance via particular processing techniques.

Is cornstarch packaging flammable?

Cornstarch packaging has low flammability and high heat resistance. Some cornstarch takeaway packaging is even microwave-safe.

Regardless, placing your cornstarch packaging in a place with a high fire hazard risk is still not recommended.

Why is cornstarch so expensive?

The cornstarch market has witnessed an upward trend of price increases due to the high cost of feedstock Corn and its tight supply.

Last year saw the USA (one of the biggest producers of corn in the world) experience bad winters, resulting in lower feedstocks that, in turn, bumped up the price of cornstarch production.

In Europe, the ongoing war in Ukraine has disrupted supply chains. As such, the European Union market faces feedstock challenges, leading to higher prices for cornstarch and other downstream products.

Get Real Time Prices of Corn Starch:

Is cornstarch packaging suitable for food packaging?

Cornstarch packaging is one of the best options for food packaging. It is non-toxic, so you don’t have to worry about contamination. It has a high oil and aroma resistance, making it suitable for containing oily or pungent foodstuffs.

The future of cornstarch

Cornstarch as a packaging material is still a relatively new industry with room for improvement. However, it is already showing promise as a sustainable alternative to plastic and styrofoam.

The raw materials required to produce cornstarch packaging are already abundant and readily available; thus, sourcing everything you need is simple. The material is versatile and diverse in its applications and has a much lower carbon footprint than conventional plastics.

While cornstarch is still more expensive than plastic, advancements in its production will lower its costs. And with the depletion of our oil reserves being inevitable, investing in a renewable resource will be more cost-effective.

With single-use plastic bans prompting a shift into sustainable practices, it will also be good for you and your business to make that jump. By adopting cornstarch packaging, you’ll reduce your brand’s environmental footprint and advertise its commitment towards creating a sustainable future.

As we move towards a plastic-free future, choosing the correct biodegradable and sustainable replacements is vital for making your business stand out.

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