Packaging company implements fully-traceable polymers in sugar packaging

Materials World magazine
6 Jan 2020

Tetra Pak says new packaging is the first in the food industry to be made with fully traceable plant-based polymers. Shardell Joseph reports.

Packaging manufacturer, Tetra Pak, has claimed to be the first company in the food and beverages industry to offer packaging made from a fully traceable supply chain of plant-based polymers. The move aimed to alleviate Tetra Pak’s dependency on resources it considers unsustainable.

Collaborating with Brazilian petrochemical company, Braskem, Tetra Pak is responsibly sourcing plant-based polymers using the Bonsucro standards for sustainable sugarcane. Braskem has now reached 100% Bonsucro certified volumes of sugarcane-derived bioethanol for Tetra Pak’s plant-based materials, establishing full supply chain transparency.

‘As the bioethanol used for our renewable polyethylene derives from sugarcane, it is a plant-based material, which can be replenished naturally over time, reducing our dependency on finite resources and materials,’ Tetra Pak Environmental Sourcing Coordinator, Johan Olausson, told Materials World.

‘Using renewable materials, such as plant-based polymers, in food and beverage products can have positive environmental, economic and social impacts by capturing carbon as well as significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions during the product lifecycle, and promoting sustainable land use and biodiversity.’

According to Olausson, lifecycle assessment studies have been carried out to evaluate Tetra Pak’s plant-based polymers, and showed advantages of using sugarcane-based materials over fossil-fuel-derived ones, based on the overall carbon footprint. Classed as a renewable feedstock, sugarcane captures and fixes CO2 from the atmosphere every growth cycle, which occurs annually.

The announcement of the traceable plant-based polymers derived from Tetra Pak’s recently launched Planet Positive project, encouraging industry stakeholders to adopt initiatives that work towards a circular economy, and looking at approaches for manufacturing new products that go beyond reuse and recycling.

‘We believe the economy of the future must be circular and low-carbon with a minimum climate impact across the entire food value chain,’ Olausson said. ‘Plant-based materials such as wood and sugarcane are essential to our low-carbon circular economy approach.’

Green polyethylene

As the bioethanol used for the renewable polyethylene derives from sugarcane, it retains the same properties, performance and application versatility of fossil-derived polyethylene, which facilitates its immediate use in the plastics production chain.

‘The sugarcane-based polymers function the same way as fossil polymers, working as a barrier material to protect the contents of the beverage carton. It is not biodegradable, which is essential to meeting the quality requirements of the package, as well as to maintain the recyclability of the package,’ said Olausson.

In order to utilise the sugarcane, it is converted into bioethanol, which is dehydrated to make the polymer through industrial processes. This bioethylene is then put through a polymerisation process at Braskem’s plant in Triunfo, Brazil, where it is transformed into Braskem’s ‘I’m Green Polyethylene’ material.

Supplying traceability

Due to increased consumer demand for responsibly sourced and produced goods, traceability has been recognised as an effective tool for advancing low-carbon objectives, and as a way to increase resource and cost efficiency by looking at all aspects of the supply chain. As part of the UN’s Global Compact initiative, addressing traceability in the supply chain plays a significant role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In keeping with its Planet Positive initiative, Tetra Pak has been committed to producing products and promoting practices that target responsible sourcing. Focusing on growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products, reflected in its 2019 Index report, Tetra Pak has initiated responsible sourcing goals in the past, leading to the implemention of transparency of its products’ lifecycle.

‘We’ve seen a growing trend of consumers wanting to do more for the planet, and they look to brands to help,’ said Abreu. ‘Today 91% of consumers look for environmental logos when shopping, and Bonsucro Chain of Custody Certification can be used to communicate credible information to consumers, thereby helping our customers differentiate their products.’

According to Olausson, Bonsucro’s chain of custody standard concerns the supply of a product including all stages from feedstock production up to consumption. ‘It is proof that a company is sourcing and trading responsibly – it provides assurance that claims of compliance can be tracked along the supply chain.

‘We see Bonsucro as offering a credible and rigorous sustainability standard, which gives our customers assurance that the plant-based polymers used in our packages are traceable pack-to-origin and certified sustainable.’ The Bonsucro certified labels will be available to place on packaging from 2020.