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Is the Future of Sustainable Food in Plant-Based Foods?


The environmental benefits of plant-based foods are well documented. Livestock products generate about 15% of all greenhouse gases and take up two-thirds of agricultural land. There are 1.5 billion cows on the planet, generating 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Research by the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems shows that a plant-based burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse gases, 99% less impact on water scarcity, and 93% less impact on the land than a quarter pound of American beef.

Citing such environmental credentials, some argue the future of the sustainable food industry is with plant-based foods.

According to a new report from Ecovia Intelligence, a research and consulting firm, the sustainability choice between meat and dairy products and plant-based foods is a false dichotomy.

The firm writes:

Animal-based products have many sustainability merits. Livestock brings many benefits to farms; for instance, plowing fields and improving soil fertility. Livestock farming also sustains many rural communities, creating employment and maintaining agricultural economies. In this respect, meat and dairy products can have greater impacts than plant-based products.

With plant-based foods continuing to grow at double-digit levels, vegan products clearly have a future in the sustainable food industry. However, so do meat and dairy products, especially those made according to organic and sustainable farming methods.

More than Food

It’s not only plant-based foods that have garnered attention when it comes to environmental stewardship. For example, in March, Hasbro announced plans to begin using plant-based bio-polyethylene terephthalate for blister packs and plastic windows in its product packaging beginning next year.

The company says it will use bioPET plastic made with 30% plant-based material derived from agricultural by-products. This decision is part of Hasbro’s push to make its packaging less reliant on non-renewable resources.

Toymaker Lego also announced it will turn to plant-based plastic. The company says that the polyethylene for these botanical-themed elements will be sourced from sugarcane.

Polyethylene is a soft, flexible, and durable type of plastic that the Lego Group currently uses in 1 – 2 % of its elements. The new product range will be a soft, durable, and flexible polyethylene made from ethanol.

The sugarcane used is sourced in accordance with guidance from the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance and is certified by the Bonsucro Chain of Custody standard for responsibly sourced sugarcane, the Lego Group says. All suppliers must comply with the company’s code of conduct, which has requirements for ethical, environmental, and health and safety standards based on top global guidelines.

Similarly, Toyota is using plant-based plastics developed by Denso in its car navigation systems, according to the automotive supplier.

Denso’s new plant-based plastics includes bio-polycarbonate (PC) made from starch and urethane resin extracted from castor oil. Denso’s starch-derived bio-PC, which the company says provides high hardness yet can be shaped into complex designs, is being used to make plastic bezels for Toyota’s navigation systems.

Denso says its goal in developing plant-derived plastics is to reduce its environmental impacts. The bio-materials also perform better, according to the company.


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