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The Future is Now for Biodegradable Foam

Biodegradable polyurethane foam allows you to make products that are environmentally friendly with a carbon footprint that, by some measures, is 40% less than that of traditional foams.

As a pioneer in the development of sustainable foam, we help our customers manufacture biodegradable products made from renewable plant-based materials that are substitutes for traditional polyurethane foams made of non-renewable fossil fuels that do not decompose and can remain unchanged in landfills for hundreds of years while degrading the quality of soil and groundwater.



Decomposition of biodegradable foams occurs through a process called bioactive hydrolysis in which bacteria and fungus in the landfill’s soil consume the foam.


Therapist Holding Medical FoamBiodegradable foam made from biopolymers – polymers produced from natural sources that are chemically synthesized from a biological material or entirely biosynthesized by living organisms -- has many highly customizable applications. They include Durable & Disposable Medical Padding, Seat Cushions, Electronics, Insulation, and Packaging Material.

Eco-Friendly Footprint

Besides the differences between the material composition of traditional and biodegradable foam, another key contrast is the eco-friendly footprint of foams made without using fossil fuels, or small amounts of those energy sources. Materials used in the production of biodegradable foam include cornstarch, potato starch, sugarcane, and algae-based compounds.

The manufacturing process consists of blending plant-based materials such as those mentioned with water and other additives to create a foamable mixture. The mixture is processed using equipment that combines heat and pressure to create the foam’s unique molecular structure. Foaming agents include biodegradable surfactants that reduce surface tension and help to create the foam’s structure while maintaining its biodegradability.

Eco Friendly Soundproofing FoamBiodegradable foams have the potential to transform the foam manufacturing industry into an environmental steward that helps to slow the rate of global warming. According to a study conducted in 2021 and published in an Institute of Physics paper (IOP is a professional body based in the United Kingdom), the production of industrial foam contributed significantly to climate change.

Another body of research published earlier this year by scientists in Asia shows that foam derived from pineapple waste had a carbon footprint approximately 40% lower than that of conventional foams.

Biodegradable Foam Applications

Although companies manufacturing foam-containing products are placing an increasing level of emphasis on sustainability, statistics on biodegradable foam use remain elusive. What is clear, however, is that a growing number of companies are making concerted efforts to use biodegradable foams. For instance, Perdue Farms, the Maryland-based processor of chicken, turkey, and pork, has switched to biodegradable packaging foam inserts to reduce its reliance on landfill-crowding plastics.

When it comes to construction and insulation products, biodegradable foam has exceptional versatility and eco-conscious features. This sustainable material has proven ideal for thermal and soundproofing applications while simultaneously reducing energy consumption in the production process and among end users.

When bio foam is used in construction applications such as for walls, roofs, and foundations, it contributes to the regulation of indoor temperatures in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because bio foam is lightweight and easy to install, it has tremendous potential to replace traditional construction materials while having a much smaller environmental footprint.


Another increasingly popular set of applications for biodegradable foam is consumer goods and textiles. Consumer goods manufactured with this eco-conscious material include footwear and cushions used for automotive applications, as well as for upholstery for sofas, chairs, and other kinds of furniture.


U.S. Troops in JeepThe U.S. military is also a major consumer of foam for use in jeeps, tanks, aircraft, and other kinds of vehicles.


Cushions made from biodegradable foam have resilience and comfort equal to or greater than that of their traditional foam counterparts and are getting better all the time as ergonomic innovations occur.


What’s more, traditional polyurethane foam can release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the atmosphere. Although those chemicals are unlikely to cause exposure in their inert states in manufactured foam products, off-gassing can occur during production when leftover compounds are released into the atmosphere. Such releases are a concern for workers and fence line neighbors living near chemical manufacturing facilities, especially individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions that can cause irritation to the eyes, nasal passages, throat, lungs, and skin.


Another consideration related to polyurethane foam is its extreme flammability. Although polyurethane foam is no longer manufactured with flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs to which long-term exposure was found to potentially cause damage to the liver, thyroid gland, and nervous system, the alternatives are not much better regarding the reduction of exposure risks.


Thankfully, the automotive industry and many of its supply chain partners have devoted significant resources to developing sustainable foams for use in upholstery cushions. The processes used to manufacture these foams consist of sourcing bio-circular feedstocks from waste and residues. As a result, the industry is reducing fossil fuel usage and significantly reducing its CO2 emissions.


Challenges and Limitations of Biodegradable Foam

Although biodegradable foam offers numerous environmental benefits, those advantages can only be realized when environmental conditions are “just right.” Ideal circumstances include exposure to moisture, heat, and microbial activity, to break down the biodegradable material most effectively. The timeline for biodegradation can range from weeks to months to several years, depending on variables such as material composition, material thickness, and disposal environment.


What’s more, biodegradable foam materials can be more expensive to produce than traditional foam made from non-renewable resources. The cost difference can range from 10% to 50% or more, depending on factors like production scale and regional availability.


The availability of biodegradable foam can also be limited in some areas, with a more established presence in countries such as the U.S., Germany, and Japan that prioritize eco-friendly products. As awareness of the benefits of eco-friendly foams increases, demand is also likely to grow as a product component and as a packaging material that provides cushioning for fragile items being shipped.


Advances in R&D

Biodegradable Polystyrene Shipping MaterialIn recent years, the growing demand for sustainable cushioning materials, especially packaging foam, has led manufacturers to focus on improving the properties of biodegradable foam, including durability and versatility achieved by using various combinations of materials, additives, and production techniques. Researchers and manufacturers have also been experimenting with various materials, additives, and production techniques to enhance the performance of bio foam for packaging applications.


Studies have shown that packaging materials made of cassava starch and corn fiber can decompose in the soil in as few as 14 days. In contrast, Styrofoam can take hundreds of years to fully decompose. Studies involving sago starch and beeswax coating show that the combination of those materials also decomposes rapidly.


These developments are encouraging because the properties such as shock absorption, insulation, and temperature control required for successful packaging applications are often the same ones required for other uses.


On parallel track, researchers are exploring recycling and waste management techniques that can extend the life cycle of biodegradable foam products.


As biodegradable foam technology continues to evolve, its contribution to waste reduction and sustainability is likely to increase significantly throughout the rest of this decade and beyond.


To discuss the possibilities of using biodegradable foam for your application…