A range of biodegradable Polylactide (PLA) containers targeted at environmentally-conscious food packagers has been launched. Manufacturer RPC Bebo Nederland claims that the packaging offers excellent clarity and has an equivalent oxygen barrier to polypropylene. It is also ecologically sound.
PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from lactic acid that is processed from annually renewable resources, such as corn. This means it uses less fossil resources compared to petroleum-based plastics.
The development of the packaging range comes in response to a raft of recent European packaging legislation encouraging greater environmental responsibility. RPC says that PLA containers not only help to avoid existing and proposed taxes on packaging and packaging waste but can also in some instances qualify for subsidies.
“The PLA containers add another dimension to our range,” said Rolf Sterken, RPC Bebo Nederland’s international account manager, convenience food packaging.
“In particular, they provide an ideal packaging solution where environmental considerations are paramount, or if customers want to create a USP for their product or brand.”
For sealed packs, RPC Bebo Nederland can also supply a heat-sealable, compostable lidding film, which is manufactured from biodegradable cellulose derived from wood pulp.
The biodegradability of packaging is becoming an important consideration. The food processing industry is a major contributor to industrial waste. In the UK for example, the Environment Agency has estimated that the food and drink sector produces between seven and eight million tonnes of waste per year, second only to the construction industry.
As a result, biodegradable packaging is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to standard plastic packaging. Plant physiologist Gregory Glenn of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Centre in California for example has been working with EarthShell, an innovator of potato-starch-based foodservice products, to fine-tune manufacturing of wheat-starch disposables.
Glenn’s research shows that biodegradable products are just as attractive, sturdy, convenient to use and leak-proof as their polystyrene counterparts. But, because they biodegrade easily, the starch-based disposables lessen the burden on overstuffed landfills.
In addition, new biodegradable materials such as PLA offer food packagers an economically-viable alternative to polystyrene-based packaging materials. Packaging firms have experienced enormous raw material price increases this year – chemical giant BASF recently increased the prices for its plastic material Styrolux by €200 per metric ton in Europe as of 1 August, blaming the rising cost of raw materials.
The price hike for Styrolux, a styrene-butadiene copolymer used in extrusion applications in food packaging, reflects an industry-wide increase in the cost of packaging materials. BASF also announced that it was to raise its European price for polystyrene (PS) by €200 per metric ton in response to what it calls totally unsatisfactory margins and earnings.
Polystyrene, a standard polymer in BASF’s range of styrenic plastics, is used extensively in refrigerator linings and food packaging. As with Styrolux, one of the main raw materials for polystyrene is benzene, which is used in the production of styrene, the pre-cursor of polystyrene.
The price for benzene has now reached historically high levels. This provides an opportunity for biodegradable materials to get into the packaging market.
Source: Food Production Daily Nov. 04, 2004.