I like, for the second topic of my experiences at the Interpack 2017, to move to a sensitive development in packaging. You can also say it’s a sensible topic.
Yesterday on the Interpack I looked for novelties in bioplastics. Let’s start with some general information, so that we are clear what we are talking about.
A general definition is that bioplastics are a distinct class of materials that consist of renewable raw materials and/or permit biodegradation of the products made from them.
The keyword here is “renewable”, as the claim of “biodegradation” is a fake. All plastics, including the ones made from fossil resources are biodegradable. Biodegradable implies disintegration by microorganisms, something to which all plastics are subject, although the fact that the process can take centuries is often kept in the dark.
Note: I don’t talk about oxo-degradable via additives, because that can be classified as green-washing, a farce. Additives are simply breaking the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces so it can’t be seen. The plastic is still there. And by the way they are not adding nutrients to the soil, the way natural materials do. So it has nothing to do with compostability either.
And that brings us to a second term that needs some clarification and that’s compostability, especially when applied to plastic packaging. The term confuses consumers and marketers are freely using it elastically. Compostable describes disintegration by microorganisms, to yield a soil-enriching by-product, over a commercially-viable period. The often unmentioned fact being that the required moisture, temperature, and bio-load conditions require a municipal/industrial composting facility and there is the catch: there aren’t that many around, so that it ends up at a landfill.
The next item that is important for the further grow of bioplastics in packaging is the willingness of the consumer goods companies to use it.
Sustainability in Packaging
A new independent study from Smithers Pira, amongst major brand owners and retailers in five key European markets, shows resounding evidence of the importance of sustainability in packaging.
The study was conducted across five European markets: Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. Research was aimed at investigating views and attitudes amongst major European brand owners and retailers on sustainability in packaging and its importance to the retail business.
The top criteria for packaging to be considered ‘sustainable’ were, that it:
• is a recyclable material (29.2%),
• uses renewable and abundant materials (19.6%),
• uses minimal lightweight materials (15.5%),
• has a low environmental footprint (8.2%) and
• is biodegradable or compostable (5.1%)
Plastics were criticised as being difficult to recycle, they use non-sustainable resources and may contain dangerous chemicals.
Note: As the report was commissioned by Pro Carton, I will come back in another article with the other results of this report re. folding cartons
So, back to the world of bioplastics.
Currently, bioplastics represent about one per cent of the about 300 million tonnes of plastic produced annually. According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics, global production capacity of bioplastics is predicted to grow by 50 percent in the medium term, from around 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to approximately 6.1 million tonnes in 2021.
The last few years we have seen a whole range of developments with sometimes remarkable results of natural (bio) raw materials transformed into bioplastics. All types of plant waste, fruit and vegetable waste, crop waste from corn and sugar cane and even whey/milk protein and many other raw materials classified as (crop/plant) waste.
And, although we still exploit approx. 0.68 million hectares (2014) to grow the renewable feedstock for the production of bioplastics, which accounts for 0.01% of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares, we, fortunately, are trying to move far away from using fertile soil for growing renewable material for bioplastics by concentrating on the usefulness of the waste we create in abundance.
Ready for a touch of interesting development? After my introduction full of promises and expectations, let’s see what reality us has the offer.
Total Corbion PLA
In the booth of Total Corbion PLA (Hall 9 / G03) is on display a number of applications in packaging and serviceware based on Luminy PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) resins. The Luminy PLA portfolio, which includes both high heat and standard PLA grades, is an innovative material that is used in a wide range of markets from packaging to consumer goods,
An innovative solution for luxury cosmetics packaging is demonstrated in the form of a biodegradable wood composite soap packaging, developed by Finland-based Sulapac. The material stands out above plastic packaging with its unique and premium wooden appearance. While it is manufactured only from safe, renewable and pure raw materials and it does not contain any ecologically harmful compounds, it still is as efficient and durable as a material as conventional plastic.
Sulapac competes in the exact same market as plastic, but as its main ingredient is wood, it’s completely biodegradable. According to the company, this makes Sulapac one of the world’s most ecological options for packaging material.
Sulapac can be processed and mass-produced using methods similar to producing plastic. This enables quick scaling, as already existing facilities can be used.
R&D / Leverage Ltd and Floreon
Developing a new material, particularly an environmentally friendly bioplastic for rigid container applications, is no easy feat for Floreon, an early stage UK technical company that produces a high-performance specially formulated bioplastic compound, which is added to standard bioplastic (PLA).
Floreon’s goal was to create an innovative material with a sustainable origin and a range of end-of-life options. The result is an environmentally, fully compostable and high-performing bioplastic.
Key to the success of the development of this new additive to mix with the PLA bioplastic for rigid containers was the partnership with R&D/Leverage Europe (Hall 11 / C23) to help with material testing to determine optimum processing and which applications would be suitable for the new material.
R&D/Leverage upped the ante in the second trial, choosing a much more difficult bottle with challenging characteristics: the R&D/Leverage proprietary Twist bottle.
On this trial they ran the Floreon material using several different weights and preform wall thicknesses for the Twist bottle.
They found that the Floreon resin provided a large process window with great results in terms of optimized material distribution and sharp corner ratio. The capability transferred through with consistent good products produced from 3mm to 8mm thick preforms.
R&D/Leverage’s UK facility specializes in Single Stage PET blow moulded bottles and can bring its expertise to PLA along with PET, PP and Eastman’s Triton materials.
BASF (Hall 10 / B43) is showcasing a wide range of products and innovations from their packaging portfolio, including the new Ultramid Flex F38 L.
Ultramid Flex F is claimed to have greater transparency, increased softness and improved tear resistance even at low temperatures, while one quarter of the raw materials is sourced from rapeseed oil.
Films made of Ultramid Flex F are even soft immediately after processing and without conditioning. This offers huge advantages for film processing at low temperatures and low humidity.
A quarter of the raw material used for the monomer is sourced from regionally-grown rapeseed oil, with which Ultramid Flex F38 L supports the trend towards more sustainable packaging solutions.
With a CO2 and O2 permeability 15 times higher than in conventional polyamide 6, the new Ultramid Flex F38 L possess considerably changed barrier properties. For example, Ultramid Flex F is ideally suited for use as cheese ripening bags.
Thanks to its high flexibility and softness, the new Ultramid can also be used to produce soft vacuum and shrink bags. The product allows for conventional stretching ratios in deep-drawing processes without any stress whitening.
We aren’t yet at the end of my selection. Tomorrow we will meet with the updated portfolio of bio-based thermoplastic compounds from FKUR, the Flexfresh Waterless Internet flower packaging, and the novelties in Green PE from Braskem.