And it turns out that there is a lot of research being done on replacing petroleum-based packaging with biobased packaging. The USDA site has two interesting articles on research being done by Peggy Tomasula and her associates at the Agricultural Research Center of the USDA.
A new book, Potential of Dairy-Derived Ingredients: Food and Nutraceutical Uses, reviews this research on biodegradable dairy-based films. These are edible films that apparently could be used either as protective coatings sprayed directly on food products or as films used in packaging materials
A quick scan of the reviews of this research shows terms like oligasaccharides, lactoferrin, metabolic regulation, and nanoemulsions . . . obviously way above my simple designer brain to evaluate.
But the good news on the biomaterials for packaging front is that work is being done and alternatives are available.