Looking at emerging bioplastics for packaging

Materials World magazine
29 Oct 2019

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum placed bioplastics as the top emerging technology of 2019 as a means of achieving a circular economy. In October, plastic-like products have been developed as potential eco-friendly alternatives for packaging.  Shardell Joseph reports.

A woody plastic

Finnish Company Woodly Oy is developing what it claims to be a carbon-neutral plastic produced from cellulose. Named Woodly, the transparent and thermoformable wood-based plastic is sourced from sustainably managed FSC certified forests.

In late October, the company had joined forces with Amerplast, one of Europe’s largest flexo printers and bag converters. In the announcement the companies highlighted the material’s potential for scalability and commercialisation.

‘Their cellulose-based solution can be utilised in applications currently made from traditional fossil-based polypropylene, such as packaging for clothing, flowers or bread,’ Amerplast Chief Marketing Officer, Ari-Pekka Pietilä, said. ‘This solution is a perfect fit for our sustainable packaging portfolio.’

According to Woodly Oy, the material has the same qualities as traditional plastic, and it can be used in the production of different kinds of recyclable packaging including films such as pouches, bags, trays, blister and clamshell formats. Sourcing from FSC certified forests, the aim is to reduce carbon emissions and environmental ramifications associated from plastic derived from fossil feedstock.

‘In comparison to traditional fossil-based plastics, Woodly has a much lower environmental impact. For example, because it is biobased, Woodly is already a carbon-neutral product. Based on lifecycle assessment, Woodly provides verified solution to tackle both fossil plastics and climate change.’ Woodly Oy CEO, Jaakko Kaminen, told Materials World.

Although in its early stages of development, Kaminen believes that if other plastic manufacturers meet the same grade as Woodly, 90% of the material in use would be recycled and that producers would only need 10% of virgin feedstock per year.

Renewable feedstock plastic

The chemical company, Dow, has partnered with UPM Biofuels and announced the commercialisation of a bio-based renewable feedstock-packaging alternative. Dow has developed the new material by incorporating a wood-based UPM BioVerno renewable naphtha – a raw material used to develop plastics – into the slate of raw materials.

Created as a substitute source for plastic production, Dow is using the feedstock material to produce bio-based polyethelyne (PE) used in packaging applications aiming to reduce food waste. The bio-based PE will be produced at Dow’s production facility in Terneuzen, the Netherlands, and the company is planning to scale-up production to address the global demand for renewable plastics.

‘At the end of their useful life, products and materials are recovered as efficiently as possible so they can be used again. We are focusing on the sustainability properties of every polymer we bring to market by working with partners like UPM to source alternative feedstocks to minimise the amount of fossil resources required for production,’ said Dow Recycling Commercial Director for Europe, Carsten Larsen.

The feedstock has demonstrated its recyclability through a product in collaboration with Elopak – international supplier of paperboard-based packaging for food and drinks. Dow’s bio-based low-density polyethylene resins are used to coat Elopak’s liquid carton containers, and the products were proved to be 100% renewable. According to Dow, the quality of product in comparison to the plastic-coated packaging was not compromised, and the CO₂ footprint of the packaging during production and use was reduced.

Turning fish skin into a plastic

Scales and skin from fish have been used to make a material that looks and feels like plastic. Developed by University of Sussex, UK, graduate Lucy Hughes, the material named MarinaTex won the 2019 James Dyson Award, which gives recognition to impactful design projects from students and graduates.

‘Plastic is an amazing material, however we have become too plastic-happy and design only for the use of the product, which can sometimes be a fraction of the product’s overall lifespan,’ said Hughes. ‘With 50 million tonnes of waste being produced annually by the global industry, I believe there is value in waste and that resources can be renewable.’

Using fish waste, the translucent material is flexible, similar to virgin plastic, and it is fully recyclable and it biodegrades within four-six weeks due to its bio-based properties. MarinaTex uses the skin and scales of the fish utilising the proteins, and is bound by red algae. This results in a strong and flexible material that can be used for single-use packaging such as sandwich and bakery bags.

Although there has been research examining the plastic-like properties of fish waste, Hughes has harnessed this and demonstrated it on real-life applications that could lessen the impact of polymer waste in the oceans. In addition, the whole process of production uses temperatures below 100°C.

Hughes plans to develop the product by securing funding, doing more research into mass manufacturing and more research into material performance under different conditions.