UK-based Aquapak Polymers Ltd has developed a process to produce a multifunctional packaging polymer that is both 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable in standard waste management facilities.
Currently at demonstration phase and with a full-scale, 50,000 sq ft production factory under construction in Birmingham (UK), Aquapak is now in talks with retailers, local authorities and the waste sector to explore the material’s potential as a sustainable alternative to conventional and bioplastic films.
The process patented by Aquapak Polymers Ltd allows the company’s PVOH polymer to be easily recovered from materials sorting facilities. When treated in water, the polymer dissolves and can then be recovered from solution and repelletised, ready to be returned to manufacturers in a closed loop system.
The development bypasses the difficulties of separating film from rigid plastic, and could replace multilayer packaging on a wide range of consumer products.
“The polymer process developed by Aquapak is attracting a great deal of interest from the packaging, retail and waste sectors,” said Mike Everard, Managing Director of Aquapak Polymers Ltd. “As a packaging material, it outperforms both cornstarch and many conventional plastics, while also overcoming the usual barriers to recovery and recycling.”
Initial tests indicate that Aquapak’s PVOH polymer is benign in the environment and non-toxic to marine life, so if recovery for recycling is not required the dissolved polymer can be washed away safely with wastewater. The material has been FDA-approved for food contact, and can therefore be used for packaging food products, overcoming a major hurdle for the market penetration of recycled plastics.
Detailed assessments with a number of key waste management operators have shown that the polymer degrades quickly in anaerobic digestion (AD). Depackaging is therefore not required prior to digestion. The material’s rapid degradability in the AD process means it could have significant implications for household food waste collections as well as the food manufacturing and packaging sectors.
The company is currently in talks with a number of key market sectors. “It’s an exciting time for Aquapak as we demonstrate to manufacturers and brand owners that they can now have a strong monolayer plastic that performs well, looks great, and is environmentally sustainable,” Mike Everard said.
Aquapak Ltd’s polymer is available as a 6μm – 200μm monolayer and provides a high performance barrier for air, solvents and oils, while being puncture resistant and performing well in drop tests. The company’s production plant will create 70 new jobs.