Further Packaging News
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Recycling Plastics Reaches New Milestone in Japan
The Japanese have often been leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of us in finding innovative ways to reduce their energy consumption while boosting their use of renewable energy for everyday life. Having already helped popularize the "furoshiki" as an elegant and sustainable alternative to plastic, it comes as no surprise that they're at it again, this time developing a groundbreaking new process for recycling plastics.
A group of scientists have developed a process by which certain types of plastics can be broken down into their original chemical elements and then reused to make a new brand of high quality plastic. While most recycling methods rely on an approach that consists of melting and reforming plastic into a new, less pure type of plastic, the technique developed by Akio Kamimura and Shigehiro Yamamoto completely depolymerizes, or breaks down, the individual chains of molecules that make up polyamide plastics.
The scientists used an ionic liquid to change nylon-6 into captrolactam, its base component, that could then be reused over and over to synthesize new plastics.
"This is the first example of the use of ionic liquids for effective depolymerization of polymeric materials and will open a new field in ionic liquid chemistry as well as plastic recycling" said Kamimura and Yamamoto.
In addition to providing a more effective way to recycle plastics, their method is also much simpler to implement on a large scale since it eschews costly pressure chambers and wasteful energy inputs in favor of typical labouratory glassware. While this won't help us move towards a plastic-free future, it will at least eliminate a lot of the waste and energy consumption incurred through our current practices, which, in our minds, is a welcome development in itself.
Biopolymers developed to extend probiotic shelf life
A line of biopolymer ingredients under development will allow probiotics to be used in more foods than is presently possible.
Australian venture capitalists BioPacificVentures yesterday announced it was investing in EnCoate, a biopolymer company jointly owned by New Zealand firms AgResearch and Balance Agri-Nutrients.
EnCoate is developing a family of biopolymers to stabilise probiotic microbes so that they can survive for long periods without refrigeration. The aim is to develop biopolymers that can extend the shelf life of foods to up to two years at room temperature and humidity.
EnCoate claims to have developed a technology that can stabilise the microbes so that they can be used to enhance foods such as breakfast cereals, infant milk-powders and dog-biscuits.
The edible biopolymers can be added to the foods containing the probiotic ingredients.
Priobiotics are microbes that provide health benefits to consumers, but current technology limits the use to dairy products as refrigeration is required.
BioPacificVentures is funded by local and international investors with Nestl', the world's biggest food company, the largest investor.
Bridgit Hawkins, acting chief executive officer of EnCoate, said the purchase opens a potentially huge global market for probiotic ingredients.
"The market for EnCoate's probiotic ingredients will be global manufacturers and marketers of non-chilled foods that are seeking to differentiate their products in the perceptions of health-conscious consumers" she said.
The probiotic ingredient market is worth over $600m annually, and is growing at a rate of between 10 and 20 per annum, Hawkins said.
Ian Boddy, general manager of commercial services at AgResearch said the technology, when applied to probiotic ingredients, could double the market by enabling manufacturers to extend the probiotics category from refrigerated foods to non-refrigerated products.
"What's more, EnCoate has potential beyond extending the shelf life of probiotics, with the core technology behind EnCoate being the biopolymer, which has applications in agricultural biology, food, seed coatings, and vaccines" he said.
Andrew Kelly, executive director of BioPacificVentures, said the $6.3m investment and experience would drive the technology into numerous global markets.
"Probiotics, the 'healthy' bacteria, is one such market" he said. "Offering much more than capital, we believe our multinational food industry experience will be very beneficial to the company."
BioPacificVentures is one of Australasia's largest life science venture capital funds.
Garbage Gives Green Polymer
Circuit boards from chicken feathers, plastic from soybean'scientists are turning over...
Carbon dioxide. Orange peels. Chicken feathers. Olive oil. Potato peels. E. coli bacteria. It is as if chemists have gone Dumpster diving in their hunt to make biodegradable, sustainable and renewable plastics. Most bioplastics are made from plants like corn, soy, sugar cane and switch grass, but scientists have recently turned to trash in an effort to make so-called green polymers, essentially plastics from garbage.
Geoff Coates, a chemist at Cornell, one of the leaders in the creation of green polymers, pointed to a golden brown square of plastic in a drying chamber. 'It kind of looks like focaccia baking, doesn't it?' Coates said. 'That's almost 50 percent carbon dioxide by weight.'
Coates' labouratories occupy almost the entire fifth floor of the Spencer T. Olin Laboratory at Cornell, and have a view not only of Cayuga Lake and the hills surrounding Cornell, but of a coal power plant that has served as a kind of inspiration. It was here that Coates discovered the catalyst needed to turn CO2 into a polymer.
With Scott Allen, a former graduate student, Coates has started a company called Novomer, which has partnered with several companies, including Kodak, on joint projects. Novomer has received money from the Department of Energy, New York state and the National Science Foundation. Coates imagines CO2 being diverted from factory emissions into an adjacent facility and turned into plastic.
The search for biocomposite materials dates from 1913, when a French and a British scientist filed for patents on soy-based plastic. 'There was intense competition between agricultural and petrochemical industries to win the market on polymers,' said Bernard Tao, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue.
Much of the early research on bioplastics was supported by Henry Ford, who believed strongly in the potential of the soybean. One famous 1941 photo shows Ford swinging an ax head into the rear of a car to demonstrate the strength of the soy-based biocomposite used to make the auto body. But soy quickly lost out to petrochemical plastics. 'In those days you had a lot more oil around, and you could dig it up all year round,' Tao said. 'You didn't have to wait until the growing season.'
And there was another problem: permeability. The soy plastic was not waterproof. 'Petroleum is biologically and relatively chemically inert, ' Tao explained. 'Most living systems require water.' Fossil fuels 'inexpensive, abundant and water resistant' quickly dominated the plastics market. Now, agriculture-based plastics are back in the running, and with the type of catalysts developed by Coates and others, a whole new array of polymers has become commercially viable.
Choosing carbon dioxide as a feedstock for a polymer was not an obvious choice. It was what Coates called 'a dead molecule'. 'CO2 has almost no reactivity,' he said, 'and that's why it's used in fire extinguishers.' So what made him choose carbon dioxide? 'It's abundant and cheap. We picked it for environmental and economic reasons, not for its reactivity.'
Richard Wool, a University of Delaware chemist, works with a material even less glamorous than orange peels: chicken feathers. Wool and his graduate students designed a composite made from soybeans and the down of chicken feathers. After seeing the composite, a Tyson Foods engineer approached Wool, offered him two billion pounds of chicken feathers, and an unlikely partnership was born. Despite the madcap premise, Professor Wool used the material to design a circuit board he said is a lighter, stronger, cheaper product with high-speed electronic properties. In short, the feathers allow extra air flow and do not expand like plastic when heated, so the hotter temperatures that come with higher speeds are less problematic.
Wool is also working with olive oil and other high-oleic oils to create rubber, paint and what he calls biocompatible adhesives; he envisions making bandages that would work more like skin. NONNY DE LA PENA(New York Times)
Leading manufacturer Polybags has a new film (developed in co-operation with the Polymer Centre at London Metropolitan University) branded PolyMax. Basically a low density polyethylene with a few additives and different extrusion techniques it is superior both in appearance and performance to traditional low density polythene.
It has a gloss and shine that makes it more attractive to customers but its great advantage is its strength. PolyMax, 75 micron thick (300 gauge) will perform as well as 125 micron (500 gauge) standard polythene film. Polybags Ltd holds in stock five standard sizes varying from 18 x 24" to 48 x 48" in two film thicknesses. The 150 gauge Hercules range has the performance of 250 gauge conventional film and the 300 gauge Goliath bags are as strong as 500 gauge standard bags.
Bags can be manufactured in any size so long as they are at least 450 mm wide. Their use has been particularly succesful in the transport of ice cubes where considerable cost savings have been enjoyed by users. Nevertheless, there has been a surprising reluctance on the part of some users to try the new film despite the extra cost per kilo of the material being completely outweighed by the ability to down gauge. Presumably on the principle that if is something is too good to be true it probably is. However, once persuaded to try the new material users are enthusiastic. So far there has been only one disadvantage. Because it is stiffer, it is more difficult to close the bags by tieing the material in a knot.
Rosas Increases the Shelf life of fresh food (from 21 days) to more than 21 weeks with saving 15% of plastic film on thermoformer
Society ROSAS, specialized in renovation of packaging machines, has developed a process to obtain packages with 100% oxygen free on thermoformer machinery. This process was built on two complementary patents.
The first patent allow them to inject fluids directly inside the middle of the sealing enclosure Instead of perforating the usual holes on both sides of the plastic film. As a result, this process reduces the width of the plastic film, both on the upper and the lower rolls, and save up to 15% of film ! (More technical details on WIPO web site.) See our schematic Patent 1.
The suppression of the perforating tools has another hygienic effect. On regular thermoformer machines, these tools cannot be totally cleansed, and since they usually made of steel they contribute to "pollute" the atmosphere inside the sealing enclosure.
This device is already in use and can be adapted on any kind of thermoformer machinery ! Among their customers using their machines and saving 15 % of plastic film we can mention:
As a extension of the first patent, the second one goes further allowing this time to introduce directly the product, solid or liquid, inside the tray sealing enclosure, under a perfect controlled atmosphere.
With a double chamber system, it is now possible to vacuum the 'tray sealing enclosure' in order to obtain 100% of Oxygen free before introducing the product. Depending on the product, this result can even be guaranty going through 3 stages (most of the time the first one being enough):
- Vacuum of the enclosure removing most of the oxygen.
- Injection gas like CO2. (This Gas absorbs automatically the oxygen molecules left behind)
- Second vacuum of the 'Loaded' CO2
At the same time, on a separate 'controlled atmosphere' chamber, the product is also vacuumed to remove the oxygen, but also exudates, and then introduced in the plastic tray completely free of oxygen.
It is well known that removing 100 % of oxygen from the food can extend shelf life of fresh foods. (Canadian labouratory Alimentech) The difficulty being usually to succeed in obtaining a perfect vacuum while the product is already inside the tray, and then holding oxygen. (Animation) See our schematic Patent 2.
With theses patents, the length of the shelf date depends now on the quality on the plastic film once thermoformed. With a good plastic film, it could be extended from 21 days to more than 21 weeks. Some plastics makers in US are already working on this issue.
Let's imagine that the actual plastic film can last only 8 or 10 weeks, keeping fresh products between -1 and +3 degrees Celsius. No more freezer required for transportation (ship, lorry), just cold rooms keeping the product in much better quality for a longer period of time. This is also completely changing the cost of long distance transportation and without all the troubles of defrosted food.
For industrials this process has also other big advantages like the suppression of clean room since the product is directly carried inside the plastic tray. For the same raison this process is also removing the laminar flow effect in case of liquid products.
This patent is a real 'revolution' changing completely our way of Packaging, Storing and Transporting Food and Products in the world. Rosas has developed a prototype proving the efficiency of this second patent, and is still looking for partners to use those two innovations.
Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? To Make... Plastic.
The race to develop renewable plastics is picking up steam and poultry feathers are among the materials under consideration.
Chickens are already highly productive critters, yielding fresh eggs, tender meat and piles of raw material for fertilizer. Now add renewable plastic to the list, thanks to a University of Delaware professor who managed to make a computer circuit board out of a composite of chicken feathers and soybean oil.
What started out six years ago as something of a joke'coming up with an entry for the Delaware state fair'turned into a serious project for chemical engineer Richard Wool and his graduate students. It turns out that the feathers'actually just the downy fibers removed from the quills'when processed and combined with soybean resin and made into plastic, have some pretty desirable properties. Wool and his students found the chicken-feather circuit board had better conductivity and heat resistance than conventional plastic. What's more, the composite's rate of thermal expansion matches that of the wires, reducing the risk of cracks and other problems when the two expansion rates are out of whack. And in case you're wondering, there's not even a hint of a fried chicken odor. "We leave all the smells behind" said Wool.
Recently, computer equipment companies have expressed interest in the special resin. And now Wool's Newark, Delaware-based company, Cara Plastics, is partnering with chemical company DynaChem to produce it. Intel is advising the company on the board's electronic performance, and manufacturer Hunter Technology is helping with the design. The chicken-feather plastic circuit boards could move into production as soon as a customer is found.
Need For Renewables
Unusual, sure, but chicken feathers are just one of many new sources that scientists and others are looking to as potential alternatives to petroleum, one of the key ingredients in plastics. The reasons are plenty. Among them, Americans generate some 29 million tons of plastic waste every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, raising the urgency of developing more biodegradable, or at least recyclable, materials. Green plastics, as they're called, are increasingly attractive as the world frets about global warming, which is caused in part by burning fossil fuels. "If you work with renewable materials, you are in fact coming up with a very good method of improving the atmosphere" Wool said.
That opportunity is no doubt one of the main reasons sustainable-plastic researchers and businesses seem to be in overdrive these days. Soybean, chicken feathers, corn and sugar cane are just a few of starting points for making green polymers. The latest news in the field comes from Brazil, where chemical giant Braskem said on June 21 it had developed the first polyethylene plastic'the kind used in items like plastic bags and drink bottles'made from ethanol derived from sugar cane. The company said in a statement it would start production in 2009 and could eventually be churning out some 200,000 tons of high-density polyethylene a year.
Typically, polyethylene is made from ethane, which usually comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel. The manufacturing process can be dirty, and it can take some 1,000 years for a polyethylene bag to break down (though many are recyclable).
Where Braskem stands apart is in its use of a renewable resource or feedstock, such as sugar cane, to make ethane, the company said. It's unclear how much cleaner, if at all, the manufacturing process will be. "We are keeping up with the desires of consumers who are asking for renewable products" said Braksmem spokesman Nelson Letaif, who noted the S? Paolo-based company's polyethylene will be recyclable but not biodegradable.
The U.S. Government is also in the green plastics race. On June 14, Department of Energy researchers said they had managed to derive high yields of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a key building block for polymers like polyester and polyurethane, directly from glucose and fructose'two of the sugars most prevalent in nature. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory coaxed yields of HMF of 70 percent from glucose, found in plant starch and cellulose.
The scientists teased out a 90 percent yield from fructose, found in honey, many fruits and other sources, through the same special catalytic system using metal chlorides, an approach that results in significantly less impurities than traditional catalysts. "This is just the first step" said Z. Conrad Zhang, who led the research at the labouratory's Institute for Interfacial Catalysis in Richland, Washington. "There are a lot of things to be done before product development."
Cost Will Be A Barrier
Yet some plastics experts say green plastics won't truly take hold on a wide scale until their costs match those of old-fashioned petroleum-derived plastics. "The only thing that would be news in green plastics would be if someone feels they can do it economically" said Bob Davenport of SRI Consulting, a Menlo Park, California-based research group for the global chemical industry.
Until the price of oil becomes even more dear?or biotechnology helps plants have better yields of materials suitable for producing plastic?green plastics is likely to remain more of a boutique business. "It will be quite some time in the future before we get a huge market" he said. "It is a lengthy process to full commercialization, but one worth pursuing if there are sufficient advantages?and a number of companies think so."
For their part, the engineers at Braskem believe those days are already here. Company spokesman Letaif said its polyethylene will be "as competitive" as the traditional stuff. But Braskem also believes it may be able to charge a slight premium for the product as its clients will pay for the cachet of having renewable plastic.
Wool, the chicken apostle, said his computer circuit board is already competitive with the price of traditional circuit boards. Poultry powerhouse Tyson Foods has offered to give Wool 2 billion pounds of chicken feathers a year to continue the project. Another thumbs-up: the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded him $500,000 for his work, which also includes making bio-based polymers and composites from soybean oil and natural fibers. Cara Plastics, of which Wool is president and CEO, is working on making high-performance parts and structures like hurricane-resistant roofs.
We may be a few years out from slumbering on plant-starch foam mattresses. But the days of toting home chicken-feather circuit boards in sugarcane plastic bags may not be far off. That's, of course, assuming the manufacturing costs are in line with those for traditional plastic.
Sainsbury's is first customer for Amcor's NaturePlus Materbi heat-seal film
Sainsbury's has become the first retailer to use Amcor's NaturePlus Materbi heat-seal film for the vertical form, fill and seal (VFFS) packaging of fresh produce.
The first pack to hit the shelves is the 750g bag of Sainsury's SO Organic baby salad potatoes.
Previous grades of Materbi have required impulse seals and so have not been suitable for the majority of VFFS vegetable packing lines currently used by UK retail packers.
But Amcor claimed this latest version is the first heat-sealable and fully compostable film that can be used with a vertical filling machine.
SO Organic potato range: uses NaturePlus Materbi
The new product launch is part of Sainsbury's switch to the large-scale use of biodegradable packaging, which it first announced last September.
The 40-micron co-extruded material was produced at Amcor's extrusion site in Ilkeston and then printed at its fresh produce packaging centre in Ledbury.
The PLA puzzle
Finding the most suitable final destination for packaging made from polylactic acid (PLA) can feel like trying to make your way out of a maze. A maze with more than one exit, and where the PLA players find it hard to agree on the right path to the finish.
Near to PLA's roots in the US Mid-West is Eric Lombardi, who runs a recycling operation in Colorado and is also president of the GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN). He and a loose alliance of recycling groups have thrown down a challenge to Cargill-owned NatureWorks, which manufactures PLA in Nebraska: provide a viable end-of-life solution for PLA containers – specifically bottles – or impose a moratorium on new applications until you have one.
Most PLA bottles are difficult to distinguish from PET or HDPE. Where more sophisticated equipment is used, PLA can be separated from other polymers. The real issue, says Lombardi, is the additional cost this imposes on sorting and recycling organisations. As a residue, these PLA bottles are likely to end up in landfill, without the benefit of recovery in any form.
Earlier this year, NatureWorks said it was in "active discussions" with environmental groups about PLA's final destination. The company also said it had not developed any new bottle applications for several months. In fact, as its latest newsletter informs us, Canadian brand +1 Water added one new application at the beginning of January.
But is this anything more than a local duel between NatureWorks, which Lombardi likes to call "the world's largest private corporation", and a disaffected materials recycling facility operator (and one which, by the way, could be thought to have vested commercial interests in traditional polymers)?
Well, it certainly looks a lot bigger than that, and the debate has come a lot closer to home. In March, a workshop run jointly by the Green Alliance, Wrap and the National Non-Foods Crop Centre highlighted similar concerns in the UK.
The consensus was that many applications of biodegradable and compostable polymers should be encouraged. But Green Alliance policy officer Hannah Hislop says: "There were concerns that bottles were not a desirable application for biodegradables, because they are indistinguishable from other polymers." Nor do the potential problems end there. When Peter Skelton of Wrap's retail innovation team outlines the pros and cons of PLA in particular, there are plenty of positives. These include high-clarity grades, and comparable cycle times and energy requirements to other polymers in converting operations.
But many performance limitations still remain. Skelton highlights the water vapour and oxygen transmission rates, its unsuitability for carbonates and the fact that it deforms at high temperatures.
At least one UK retailer has chosen not to give preference to PLA because of the risk of genetically modified maize content. This is despite the fact that, according to Wrap, only some 10% of consumers think this is an issue.
But even those retailers that have come out publicly in favour of PLA have no illusions about the difficulties it presents. Marks and Spencer, which uses the biopolymer for packs such as yoghurt pots, has admitted that PLA is technically very difficult. Its susceptibility to static and its brittleness are just two of the challenges it presents. And claims, such as the availability of effective peelable grades, are difficult to substantiate.
The question marks remaining over many of PLA's performance criteria are reasons why those with access to the polymerisation technology have not invested in more production, the retailer suggests.
It has been estimated that M&S currently uses only around 2,000 tonnes of PLA a year, despite the prominence given to the material in its hierarchy of preferences. But even in small volumes, availability of supply can be a thorny issue.
Zain Okhai, managing director of film converter Rockwell Solutions, admits that having to rely on limited global supplies, and most of those still from a single supplier, causes real problems. While some material is becoming available in the Far East, there is no likelihood of European supply in the near future. (See Growing PLA in the UK below.)
Wrap's long-awaited lifecycle analysis (LCA) for PLA was due for publication early in June this year. But an LCA carried out by Germany's Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which was commissioned by NatureWorks itself and published last year, came up with some interesting observations. Much of what the report said was positive. But end-of-life issues again loomed large. "Composting should not be the standard treatment for PLA packaging waste as it cannot be expected to provide the environmental benefits achievable by chemical recycling and energy recovery," it said. Anaerobic digestion, it added, was another good option.
But wasn't compostability supposed to be a – if not the – key benefit of biodegradables such as PLA? It is understandable that oil-based polymers, which have been used for decades, should only recently have started to work hard at recovery options. But isn't it rather strange there should be so many concerns about the best final destination for materials so firmly rooted in the new millennium?
John Williams, technology transfer manager at the National Non-Food Crops Centre, is pragmatic about the level of final destination preparation done for PLA plastics. He says: "We are still in the early days with PLA. If you go back to the early 1950s when petrochemical plastics were coming on to the market then there would not have been an answer to questions about feed stock or waste management."
Recoup, an authority on waste management for traditional plastics, says there is still work to be done on the processing of eco-polymers. "If there were more PLA packs in the supply chain, would the composting facilities be prepared to deal with it?" asks Stuart Foster, project manager at Recoup.
The effectiveness of the traditional plastics recycling system, which deals with one in five bottles used, could be compromised by the increasing use of PLA in packaging, he warns: "As the use of bioplastics increases, we feel there should be more research done to understand the impact on existing recycling and composting systems. There's a need to make sure it doesn't jeopardise what's there already."
As the current system stands, says Foster, PLA bottles are "unlikely to be removed because of the cost to the reprocessors." At the moment, the amount of PLA in use remains at a safe level for reprocessors looking to reuse batches of plastic. But, says Foster: "If you speak to reprocessors, they really don't want PLA in the bottle stream. If the amount rises, they might have to look at rejecting whole batches of waste plastic."
Growing PLA in the UK
As some converters of PLA manufactured by NatureWorks report shortfalls of supply, UK users might have to look elsewhere for their PLA.
Farmers in the UK aren't yet aware of the potential for their crops to be feedstock for polymers as well as feedstock for humans or animals, according to the National Union of Farmers. The Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) has done more research into the potential packaging applications for UK-grown crops. Mairi Black, industrial uses product manager, says that the HGCA has been working with Green Light Products to develop a wheat-based alternative to polystyrene block packaging.
The success of their work shows that high-volume production of eco-friendly materials is possible in the UK. Green Light Packaging's product has taken one-third of the market for loosefill packaging since its design.
The HGCA also has an R&D contract with the Department of Trade and Industry's Technology Programme, led by Brunel University, into eco-composites based on renewable materials, due to be completed in December 2007.
Black says there isn't the same level of financial incentive to develop PLA production in the UK as there was in the US, where it was a good solution for excesses of cheap corn.
John Williams from the National Non-Food Crops Centre says that the UK public might have ethical concerns about using wheat or corn, that could be food, to produce packaging materials. But he says around 45% of crops produced in Europe already go in to non-food applications and that there is suitable waste produced from corn or wheat plants after the food parts have been removed: "The technology is coming along to produce products out of this waste. If you use the agricultural feedstock effectively then there should be enough in the supply chain to meet both food and other needs."
Williams' concerns about producing PLA in Europe regards the intellectual property rights. It is likely any producer keen to manufacture PLA in the UK would have to licence the technology from NatureWorks, says Williams. "My personal view is that this will change," he says. "Someone or other will find another way of doing it and then NatureWorks won't control the supply chain."
There are other eco-polymers already in production in the UK. Innovia supplies Nautreflex, a cellulose film, to the global market from its manufacturing site in Wigton, Cumbria. "PLA is the one people talk about, because it was the first on the commodity market to be produced in any reasonable volume," says Williams, but with products like NatureFlex already produced in large quantities from renewable resources in the UK, it may be time to look at alternative eco-polymers.
What is Sustainable Packaging &How Green we are?
Sustainable packaging a definition:
- Is beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle;
- Meets market criteria for performance and cost;
- Is sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled using renewable energy;
- Maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials;
- Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices;
- Is made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios;
- Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy; and
- Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles.
How green are we?
In the groundbreaking survey of nearly 2,000 packaging suppliers and brand owners, Packaging Digest reveals just how knowledgeable the market is about sustainability in packaging and what companies are doing to achieve this goal.
Eighty percent of the respondents to our recent sustainability survey say they are at least somewhat familiar with what sustainability is, and more than half are already achieving sustainability goals through a variety of measures, most often in the use of recyclable materials and lightweighted packaging, as well as reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Responses from materials suppliers/converters and equipment companies were virtually identical to those from brand owners and contract packagers, showing a very similar level of awareness and involvement. The only variances occurred between respondents who described themselves as "very" or "extremely" familiar with sustainability, as compared with those who claim to be "somewhat" or "not at all" familiar.
Packaging Digest's survey was sent electronically in early December, just a month after Wal-Mart announced its sustainability scorecard initiative. Corporate/general management and engineering/production each accounted for one-fifth of the respondents, while marketing, packaging design, purchasing and research and development each represented 10 to 13 percent. The remainder did not identify their job function
So how green are we? Thirty-two percent of survey respondents say they are either "very" or "extremely" familiar with the idea of sustainability (see the "tree chart" at right). Sixty-one percent believe that the emphasis on sustainable packaging has increased during the past year, while the remainder say it has stayed the same. However, that number changes for the "familiar" group previously identified—among them, 77 percent claim that the emphasis has increased.
Although Wal-Mart has made it abundantly clear that it considers sustainability to be a business economic issue, only 19 percent of our survey participants agree with that philosophy. Just a tad more than one-third of the respondents say they view sustainability as an environmental initiative; 46 percent claim that the economic and environmental importance weigh equally.
When making decisions about packaging, 21 percent of the participants say that sustainable design is a "very important factor" as compared to 8 percent who claim it is "not important." About one-third each voted for "somewhat important" and "only sometimes a factor (see the second "tree chart" on page 41)." Again, however, the importance factor is weighted more heavily among the "familiar" group, with 30 percent of those people voting for "very important" factor in making packaging decisions.
Not very many customers are asking for or requiring sustainable packaging. Only 9 percent of the survey participants say that more than 50 percent of their customers require sustainability; 37 percent say fewer than 10 percent of their customers ask for it. However, suppliers of equipment and materials are more likely to have customers who ask for sustainable packaging than do the end users.
The differences between suppliers and brand owners showed up also in the question about the importance of sustainability in designing, specifying or purchasing packaging equipment (see table at right, which shows responses of all survey participants, both suppliers and end users). Brand owners, for example, are more likely to want the equipment to meet market criteria for performance and cost (56 percent) than are suppliers (44 percent). Brand owners also say they want the equipment manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices (28 percent), compared to suppliers (21 percent).
Packaging Digest's survey asked four open-ended questions, a tactic often avoided in most surveys because they tend to be ignored. Not here, however—each question netted at least 600 write-in responses, pointing out the importance of the topic to the survey's participants.
One question asked: "In your opinion, what is the greatest impediment to adapting sustainability on the packaging processes you currently work on?" The most common answer was cost, "that is, convincing suppliers to make the necessary changes to satisfy our requirements" explains one respondent. "If the consumers show that they care enough to select products for sustainability, or the government requires it, it will happen. Otherwise, this will not happen until sustainability is economically driven" writes another. And yet a third responds: "Lack of knowledge from the consumer is a problem. There is no push to go sustainable unless it's a plus for the consumer. For that reason, cheapest/fastest/prettiest to market is a priority."
Some respondents mention the lack of readily available materials, or long leadtimes on those materials. "There are leadtime delays due to the extra effort and extra costs involved. It does not seem like 'sustainability' is mainstream or readily accessible yet" says one person. Points out another: "The resin simply doesn't work in many applications, and until more sustainable resins are available—especially high-barrier resins—we cannot create a functional package." Many people complained that they have difficulty sourcing the materials, especially in the quantities they require, because production in many cases is not keeping up with demand. Others worry that the materials may not provide the level of protection their products require: "Making sure package performance isn't compromised, leading to higher damage levels" says one respondent.
"By nature, our packaging is at a minimum to begin with, so therefore there is not a lot to work with. That being said, we are limited to our shrink films, and all investigating we have performed has yet to result in a usable alternative" explains an obviously frustrated participant.
Yet another impediment mentioned repeatedly in the open-ended question is a lack of knowledge on the part of the consumer. "The problem is end customer perception and big box store requirements and demands. I work for a big wine company where marketing feels that the glitz and glamour is what sells, and this is endorsed and even compounded by the big box and chain store world" says one person. Echoes another: "The customer does not perceive that it's a need."
But not just the consumer is being maligned. Says another, "Ignorance of corporate and upper management to the importance of packaging in general, and sustainability in particular" complains one respondent. "Management isn't interested in sustainable packaging, thinking it could be harmful to customers and not be worth the time to develop."
Another open-ended question asks survey participants what metrics, if any, are currently being used by their companies. Nearly half reported none at this time. Other responses, however, listed a variety of measures: source reduction; reduced emissions (greenhouse gases); water use; percentage of renewable materials; recycled content; life-cycle analysis; and the Wal-Mart scorecard. One person wrote: "We recently revamped the entire plant engineering and maintenance organization to implement a new culture of process engineering, although it's currently in the infant stage." Another person writes: "We are running near zero waste at our headquarters building, and we have several different ways of tracking it, which is done by our Sustainability Committee."
The survey also asked what tools or resources the respondents need to help reach their sustainability goals. "Credible definitions and expertise" writes one person, reflecting the sentiments of many. "What is now out there, I am highly skeptical of. There are lots of consultants out there, and extremely generic articles are being written and published which I wouldn't use for a Packaging 101 course."
In addition, many of the people surveyed cited trade magazines as a good future means of disseminating credible information. At Packaging Digest, we're listening.
Plastic: Past, present and endangered future
When our oil runs out, we'll lose more than just petrol. So how will we make pens, PCs and iPods? Simon Usborne speaks to the bio-pioneers who are cultivating Plan B
When a Belgian chemist named Leo Hendrick Baekeland ended his diary entry for 11 July, 1907, with the words "I know this will be an important invention", he could not have dreamt of the extent to which his brainchild would shape modern life.
Having emigrated to the US with a chemistry degree, Baekeland had spent five years in a converted barn at his New York home experimenting with a resinous gunk - the by-product of a reaction between formaldehyde and phenol - and an oven he named "The Bakelizer". The result: a hard, light substance that could take on any shape.
A hundred years on, Bakelite, the world's first fully synthetic material, has spawned a plethora of plastics that have moulded our world. Look around you: your mobile phone; your computer; your credit card; even your contact lenses - they all rely on some variant of plastic, or "the material of a thousand uses", as Baekeland marketed his creation.
At his death in 1944, the US was producing 400,000 tons of plastic a year. Today, annual production worldwide has rocketed to 100 million tons - the equivalent of 60,000 two-litre drink bottles every second - and in the UK consumption is still rising by 4 per cent a year.
But as we increasingly rely on the polymer, plastic could not exist without one ingredient: oil. For every barrel of oil that goes into making plastic, another is required to fuel the process. In total, plastics account for seven million barrels of petroleum per day - that's 8 per cent of global supply. With reserves expected to last mere decades, the race is on to find an alternative.
The solution could lie in plastics made from raw ingredients found growing in fields. So-called bioplastics are not new. Celluloid, which is made from wood and cotton, was developed as an alternative to ivory in billiard balls in the 1850s. But, like other early renewable plastics, it lacked the versatility and viability of synthetic polymers; today, it is more often used to make shirt collar stiffeners and ping-pong balls.
Bioplastics made from crops such as maize or sugar cane have become more widespread, turning up in products such as biodegradable shopping bags and tomato trays, but many are expensive to produce, or melt at low temperatures.
That could change if an American bioscience company has its way. Last month, the Massachusetts research firm Metabolix announced plans to mass-produce a plastic made using only bacteria, sweetcorn and air. Jim Barber, the company's chief executive, says the biodegradable polymer, called Mirel, can handle boiling water and is the greenest plastic on the market.
"Mirel cuts by two-thirds the greenhouse gases released by the manufacture of petroleum-based plastics" he says. "And because it's not made using oil, we cut petroleum use by about 80 per cent."
But what's really clever about Mirel is the way it is "grown". Most modern bioplastics are manufactured by extracting starch from maize or other crops and fermenting it to produce an acid, which then undergoes a series of chemical treatments to create a plastic polymer.
The scientists at Metabolix have engineered microscopic bacteria to do all that work for them. They add sugar from the maize, as well as oxygen, and watch the microbes swell as tiny plastic particles form inside them. Using a secret process, the particles are then harvested to create the pellets that can be moulded into a range of products.
"Mirel has the physical properties to be a useful alternative to most traditional plastics" says Barber. "But initially we're focusing on disposable items, such as razors, plastic bags and packaging, which use so much plastic and just get thrown away."
In the UK, we bin nearly three million tons of plastic a year, more than half of which comes from packaging. And less than 10 per cent of that is recycled - the rest ends up in landfill, or strewn along beaches and roadsides, where it can remain for decades or even centuries.
Mirel is different. "It will break down in almost any environment, including soil, in industrial or domestic compost, or even in rivers and seas" says Barber.
Its green credentials are clear, but can Mirel and other renewable materials ever hope to satisfy our enormous appetite for plastic? Dr John Williams, a scientist at the UK's National Non-Food Crops Centre, says rapid growth in the past two years has given bioplastics great potential.
He says: "People often say to me, 'Look, there are millions of tons of polypropylene in the world - how the heck are you going to replace all that?' But let's go back to the 1940s when polypropylene was just a waste material - nobody could have imagined we would be producing it on such a huge scale today. I believe renewable plastics can go the same way."
Back in the US, Metabolix is starting small. The company is building a plant in the "Tall Corn State" of Iowa that will churn out Mirel at an annual rate of 50,000 tons - a fraction of the demand for plastics. But Metabolix scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough: using a process that sounds more like science fiction than fact, they plan to transfer the machinery used to produce Mirel from the stainless-steel vats of the processing plant into the leaves and stems of the plants themselves.
Rather than take the sugar from corn and add it to microbes in a fermenter, Metabolix will cultivate a grass already loaded with the bacteria. The modified microbes take some of the sugar produced by the plant every day via photosynthesis and transform it into natural plastic that grows inside the leaves and stems. This "plastic plant" can then be harvested and the polymer extracted for conversion into pellets.
Metabolix has already "farmed" plastic in trials using a plant called switchgrass, a prairie grass that grows naturally across swathes of North America. The company hopes to get the grass into the field in the next three or four years.
Barber says the key to producing large quantities of bioplastics is to combine plastic making with the manufacture of biofuels in multi-purpose refineries. Once the plastic is harvested from switchgrass, the rest of the plant - about 90 per cent of its biomass - can be used to produce ethanol fuel, or even burned to generate electricity.
And the process will not be restricted to climates where switchgrass thrives. A grass called miscanthus is already used in parts of Europe to produce biofuels, and could be engineered to make plastic at the same time. In warmer parts of the world, other crops such as sugar cane could do the job just as well.
"Using this method you really can look at natural plastic as an alternative to a substantial portion of petroleum-based polymers - I would say around half" says Barber.
On a global scale, that would equate to 50 million tons a year, and an increasingly vocal band of environmentalists is expressing concerns about the impact that will have on land. In Brazil, where ethanol derived from corn and other crops has replaced 40 per cent of the gas guzzled by cars, millions of acres of savannah and rainforest have been turned over to bio crops. Last week, a UN report warned that if not managed carefully, growing crops for biofuels can do more harm than good.
"It is an issue" says Barber. "But this year about 90 million acres of corn will be grown in the US, which is enough to meet current needs, and in the future there are substantial amounts of set-aside land that could take switchgrass and other crops."
John Williams admits the industry is still "dipping its toe in the water" but he is confident that bioplastics will soon catch up with their oil-based counterparts. "I can't see them being 50 per cent of the market 20 years from now, but it might be 20 per cent, and that was unthinkable only two years ago."
What would Baekeland, whose iron Bakelizer was at the cutting edge of technology 100 years ago, make of plastic farms and biorefineries? "I think he would have been really excited and intrigued" says Dr Susan Mossman, author of Early Plastics: Perspectives, 1850-1950, and curator of Plasticity, an exhibition which opens at the Science Museum this month. "Before he died he said that if he could lead his life again, he would do something for the good of mankind, so I think he'd be fascinated by the idea of plastics actually helping the environment."
Plasticity: 100 years of Making Plastics opens at the Science Museum on 22 May. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
Materials of the future
- Kenaf: A species of hibiscus, Kenaf is traditionally used to make rope and paper. Now companies are converting it into a high-performance, biodegradable plastic. In 2005, Toyota revealed its i-unit concept car, which has kenaf- reinforced panels. NEC has made a kenaf mobile phone and says the material could be used in computer hardware.
- Curv: Plastics reinforced with carbon or glass are difficult to recycle because their composite materials often cannot be separated. Curv, developed at the University of Leeds, is reinforced by stretching fibres of its own polymer, which makes the reinforced product easy to melt down and reuse. It features in products including Samsonite suitcases and Nike shinpads.
- Mater-Bi: Developed by Italian research firm Novamont, Mater-Bi was the world's first fully biodegradable and compostable plastic. Starch powder extracted from maize or vegetable oil is heated under pressure with natural additives to produce plastic granules, which are turned into products ranging from plastic bags to car tyres, coffee cups and toys for pets.
- Zelfo: Using a method developed in Europe, Zelfo Australia produces lamps, bowls, and even electric guitars. Water and natural additives are mixed with the fibres of hemp, straw or even waste paper. The material then goes through a drying and casting process to produce a material its makers claim is stronger than stone.
EU funds nano packaging research
By Ahmed ElAmin
5/2/2007- UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's is part of an EU-funded project to develop biodegradable packaging using nanotechnology.
Over the past five years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable packaging, based on projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging. Supermarket chains, such as Wal-Mart, have also been driving the change throughout its suppliers.
The EU project, SustainPack, aims to create new environmentally-friendly fibre-based packaging to replace oil-based plastics. The fibres are obtained from natural, sustainable raw materials, such as wood.
They can then be modified using nanotechnology techniques to provide the needed qualities, said Chris Breen, a research from Sheffield Hallam University, one of the project partners.
"Developing sustainable packaging that can compete effectively with packaging derived from petrochemical-based polymers is extremely challenging" he said.
One of SustainPack's project goals is to increase the dry, moist, and wet strengths of fibre-based packaging materials, allowing the design of more cost-effective packaging by using less material.
Researchers have set a target of reducing material use by 30 per cent. At Sheffield Hallam work is underway on the design of nanoclay particles, which are expected to significantly improve the barrier properties and mechanical strength of the new biopolymer films and coatings.
"One of the more unusual modifiers that we are using to make the nanoclays more compatible with, and disperse throughout the biopolymer films, to effectively repel water molecules is a molecule called chitosan, which is derived from the shells of crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters" said Breen.
SustainPack researchers said they are currently developing some sample packages, which they hope to demonstrate to some of the project's industrial partners, including Sainsbury's and Smurfit-Kappa.
The four year research programme has a budget of €36m, about half of which comes from an EU research programme.
The SustainPack project brings together a consortium of 35 participants from 13 countries, representing packaging research associations, academia and industry.
In 2002, EU countries generated about 66 million tonnes of packaging waste. In the UK, about 28 million tonnes of waste every year is landfilled, a figure which is expected to double over the next 20 years.
Smurfit-Kappa is one of Europe's largest manufacturers of packaging products.
Plastic grocery bags' convenience trumps environmental factor
Petroleum-based sacks like those used in Iowa are banned elsewhere, but big change is unlikely here.
Shoppers like their plastic grocery bags and still continue to choose them overwhelmingly over more environmentally friendly paper bags.
"Consumers like the reusability of plastic sacks and the convenience of being able to grab several at a time" said Fred Greiner, president of Boone-based Fareway Stores Inc., which has been using plastic grocery bags since 1988. The company's 93 stores use in excess of 1 million plastic bags a week.
But if a movement on the West Coast creeps its way to the Midwest, grocers will be looking for alternatives to the plastic bags. San Francisco has banned the use of petroleum-based grocery bags at larger supermarkets and drugstore chains. Officials in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Calif., and Austin, Texas, are considering similar bans.
Several foreign cities including Paris and nations including South Africa, Bangladesh and Taiwan also ban the bags or plan to.
The majority of bags used at Iowa grocery stores are made with petroleum products. And it looks as though it may stay that way for now.
"Groceries have to be bagged up. And the vast majority of bags used are plastic" said Jerry Fleagle, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. "Most consumers prefer plastic."
Hy-Vee uses about 5.4 million plastic bags a week and fewer than 350,000 paper bags in its 220 stores in seven Midwestern states. The company has created incentives over the years to reduce reliance on plastic bags and encourage recycling, such as offering a 5-cent-a-bag refund for customers bringing in used plastic grocery bags and selling reasonably priced, reusable canvas shopping totes.
But the plastic bags almost always seem to win out.
"They are reusable and waterproof" Greiner said. And they cost less for stores to buy than paper, he said.
But along with taking a long time to break down in landfills, the bags often end up as debris, strewn across fields and clumped in ditches, he said.
Susan Sanford of Urbandale said she prefers paper grocery bags because she can collect her other recyclables in them. She would like to see some restrictions put on plastic bag usage in grocery stores, but doubts grocers will do it on their own.
"I would like to see it done voluntarily, but whatever is the cheapest route, that's what the grocery store is going to use" she said.
A more environmentally friendly plastic bag is being researched, but so far a usable product hasn't made its way to stores, said Larry Johnson, director of the Center for Crop Utilization Research at Iowa State University.
Several years ago, a cornstarch-based plastic was created for use in making grocery bags. The bags were not as strong as their petroleum counterparts and did not degrade fast enough in composts and landfills.
"They never met consumer expectations" Johnson said.
Scientists continue to work on other alternatives.
"Finding a polymer derived from a renewable source is being investigated, but it's not going to happen overnight" Johnson said. On top of that, consumers are not willing to pay very much for a green product, he said.
So while the world waits for a better plastic bag, stores will look for ways to better use the bags they have now, Fleagle said.
Some companies, like Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart and Fareway, provide large barrels at store entrances so shoppers can drop off used bags.
It's a successful program at the Hy-Vee on South 51st Street in West Des Moines. About 90 percent of the bags that leave the store are plastic, and at least some of them come back to the recycling bin, said store director Mark Luke.
"I have to empty the barrel every two or three days" Luke said. "I ship them to the warehouse where they recycle them."
Consumers also need to take a look at how they are using plastic bags, Fleagle said. They can be reused or recycled, he said.
Amy Horst, communications specialist with the Metro Waste Authority in Des Moines, said plastic shopping bags aren't currently included in curbside recycling services. Concerns about the weightless bags flying out of recycling bins or drifting around landfills have yet to be addressed, she said.
"We are actively looking at it" she said.
Ten Packaging To-Do's In 2007 - Packaging Tips
Well, we are into the New Year and everyone is making resolutions on how to improve in 2007. It's time to think about your product and it's packaging too. Just like we do with our mental, emotional and physical aspects of our lives, think about improving and updating your packaging. You want it to mesh with consumer wants and needs. Consumers are a moving target and what worked last year may not work in the years to come.
Here are 10 simple things you can do to ensure your product packaging is on target and delivers the right message to the right audience.
- Take an honest look at your product packaging. Is it working to your product's best advantage? Are there changes that you have put off making due to lack of time or money? Implement a plan to review one product at a time or a family of products if they are interrelated. An important factor to consider when making any changes is the continuity of the brand. Don't change for change's sake. That only serves to alienate the customer.
- Give your product packaging to an outsider to review. Ask someone who knows nothing about your product and your packaging to evaluate it. Ask for an honest opinion of what they like or don't like and ask what they think might be missing. Ask them to be objective and honest. Many times product developers get caught up in their own opinions and it's good to get grounded with an outside consumer perspective. NOTE: Be objective about negative opinions. Delve in to the actual reason someone may not like your packaging.
- Go to at least five different retail outlets and look for comparable or competitive products and assess their shelf appeal. Is there a particular characteristic that appeals to you? It could be color shape, innovative design. Determine if you think their packaging is better than yours. What stood out in your mind about that particular package? NOTE: You don't want your product packaging to mimic the competition. INSIDERS TIP: Play dumb and ask another shopper to make a decision about which product they like best. Then ask them why they chose that package.
- Step back from your product on the shelf at least five feet. Does your product stand out among the competition or is it awash in a sea of sameness? Is it difficult to distinguish one product from another? Is there a USP (unique selling proposition) that makes your product more interesting or more consumer friendly? Note: Many private label brands trade on brand recognition from the branded product. If your packaging goes that route, make sure you are not copying or infringing on someone else's design or trademarked product packaging.
- Walk the isles out side your product category. Look for crossover innovations that can be utilized in your existing product. Look for new ways of dispensing a product such as the new Wishbone Salad Spritzer that moved out of the pourable bottle into a pump dispenser or Laughing Cow cheese that went from traditional foil wrapped individual packages into a squeeze bottle. An innovative concept that changes what people buy is what you are trying to capture.
- Review trends and predictions for your industry. Is your product packaging inline with where the industry is going? Is your market moving in a new direction or are outside influences driving what is happening to product packaging? A good example is the current movement toward "green" product packaging. Are you so specialized that you may be alienating many potential market opportunities?
- Read from cover to cover at least two industry publications. Pay special attention to marketing case studies or product makeovers. Look for new innovations or ideas that you can incorporate into your existing product packaging. Read the ads too. They always showcase the latest industry innovation.
- Subscribe to the industry blogs, e-zines and newsletters relevant to your product. Don't subscribe ... read them. Pick one or two that you like or that provide pertinent information and discard the rest. There is such a thing as too much information that can either confuse you or make it impossible to make a decision because there is always a new and a better package out on the market.
- Plan to attend at least one industry trade show. One of the best shows for innovation is INPEX', America's largest invention trade show. It is a unique exposition showcasing numerous inventions and new products available to license, manufacture or market. The 23rd show will be held June 6-9, 2007. If it's innovation you are looking for, plan to attend. If you are looking for packaging insights and innovation, please be sure to attend the Packaging Diva's presentation, "Packaging Your Invention To Sell," on the 7th.
- Last but not least think about ways to improve your product packaging. Make it easier for the consumer to use, find, carry, store, open or find important information about your product. Some of the simplest innovations can revolutionize an industry though innovative product packaging. Over 12 years ago, Sargento introduced the resealable zipper closure on their cheese packaging. The rest is history.
Whether you can accomplish all ten tasks or just a few, the most important issue is that you decide to move forward one packaging step at a time. Let's face it. Consumers are a fickle bunch. It doesn't take much to turn them off. In fact, you only have 2.6 second to turn them on. That is how long you have to persuade them to buy your product and the only way to do that is through compelling packaging. Yes, your package is your number one salesperson and once you have lost the opportunity you may never get it back.
Need insights on packaging trends that can impact your business? Get the Packaging Diva on your team.
You have 2.6 seconds to persuade a consumer to pick your product up off the shelf. Thanks to the proliferation of products available at retail, you have to get their attention - and fast. If you want to make money, it's imperative that you fulfill the consumer's wants and needs. But, you have to get their attention first!
Understanding and cultivating the consumer is an ongoing task. Consumer preferences can change on a whim. When it comes to product packaging, it's important to understand the mindset behind consumers' decisions. Each year new trends move into the foreground. Yet, while some are here to stay others move on as quickly as the came into being. Some trends have great power and become mainstream across industries, ethnicities and generations… but which ones?
I know what the consumer wants. I've done the work for you. I have studied the market and I know what's hot and what's not. This valuable information is not available from anyone else. Get help by visiting Packaging University.
Amcor Flexibles - Exclusive Supplier of Peelable PLA for Fresh Produce
19th February 2007
Amcor Flexibles is proud to announce that it has been granted the exclusive sales licence from Rockwell Solutions Limited, to market its Sustainable Peelable PLA film for the global fresh produce market. This compliments the growing range of environmental films supplied by Amcor Flexibles under the Amcor NaturePlus umbrella and enhances Amcor's position as a leading supplier in this growing market
The PLA (polylactic acid) film, manufactured from cornstarch, is being used by Amcor Flexibles in its Amcor P-Plus range of tailored permeability films for modified atmosphere packaging. Amcor P-Plus is designed to maintain freshness and extend the shelf life of fresh produce.
The 40 micron material exhibits excellent peel characteristics to PLA, aPET, rPET, PVC and HIPS trays in ambient to chill conditions and thus provides added consumer convenience of easy opening. The film peels cleanly away from the base tray without any sharding and can be used on existing lidding machines. The film has also been formulated to include antimist to ensure clear visibility of the freshness of the product inside and is fully printable in either flexo or gravure to give highly attractive packs.
Amcor Flexibles is the leading flexible packaging supplier to the fresh produce market. Part of Amcor, one of the world's top 3 global packaging companies, the business operates 45 manufacturing plants in 18 countries in Europe and the Americas supplying a wide range of markets including food, healthcare and tobacco.
Shopping bags - a big opportunity for Bioplastics
Shopping bags made of plastics is certainly a field of application with a huge potential for bioplastics. Reusablebags.com estimates 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the USA alone, n estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to produce the 100 billion bags consumed annually. In Germany about 80,000 tonnes of plastic resin are converted into shopping bags each year. Up to now, just a small amount of these bags are made of plastics based on renewable resources and compostable plastics.
Different reasons, such as littering in some countries, the attempt to support the agricultural industry or simply to support sustainability in others, lead to different approaches in legislation.
In some of these countries taxes on shopping bags have been introduced. In March 2002, the Republic of Ireland, for example, became the first country to introduce a plastic bag tax, or PlasTax. Since 2003 a law in Taiwan requires restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores to charge customers for plastic bags and utensils.
Other countries that have banned or have started a discussion to take measures discouraging the use of plastic bags include Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Scotland, Italy, South Africa, Kenya, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India and Tanzania.
In France, large supermarket chains like Auchan or Leclerc started to stop giving out plastic bags for free – a first step to reduce the number of plastic bags. 5 billion plastic bags were used in France in 2003, declining to 12 billion in 2004 and 9 billion in 2005.
Late last year, the lower house of the French Parliament passed an amendment to an agricultural provisions bill, which initially intended to ban all plastics packaging by 2010 unless made from biodegradable materials. The amendment was later modified in the French senate, so that now by 2010 all supermarket plastic checkout-bags have to be made of biodegradable material.
This legislative measure "has already created a noticeable impetus for market development", says Stefano Facco, as representative of Club Bioplastique in france. He stated that the French agricultural and local industry will increasingly profit from this legislation. He gave encouragement to follow this example and develop further initiatives to support the market introduction of bioplastics at both European Union and member state level.
With all these activities in mind, one should not forget the initial idea behind the plastic shopping bag. A consumer shall be able to go out for shopping without any provisions made to carry his or her purchases home. Otherwise, the old shopping basket or tote would be the most economical solution.
Bioplastics on the advance
Shopping bags made of bioplastics are clearly on the advance.
BioBag International as. (formerly Polargruppen), headquartered in Askim, Norway, for example produces and sells several million shopping bags made of Mater-Bi material per year worldwide. In addition to two manufacturing facilities in Norway and Belgium (in close cooperation with Jemaco NV) BioBag is present in 18 countries. Jorn Johansen of BioBag is convinced that biodegradable bags (shopping bags as well as waste bags and other film products for agricultural and technical applications) is becoming an important part of their business.
The German company Holm Folienverarbeitung, is one of the suppliers with the biggest number of bioplastic shopping bags produced in Germany, as H.M. Holm, owner of the company says. This pioneer in this business has already been producing biodegradable plastic bags for 15 years, including some export activities to The Netherlands, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Most of Holm's bags are not the lightweight single use checkout bags as they are found in many countries. In Germany, the heavier reusable bags are much more common. "Even if these bags made of bioplastics are more expensive than fossil based plastic bags, many of our customers like the benefit of these bags being used as a conveyor for marketing messages" as H.M. Holm comments. A very successful bag is the so-called "Happy Bag" in close cooperation with natura packaging, that shows a photograph of fresh strawberries on one side and an empty field on the other, where e.g. small shops such as farm greengrocery stores can print their own logo. One big customer of biodegradable bags is the outdoor equipment supplier "Globetrotter". Customers of its six stores in Germany carry home their purchases in biodegradable bags made by Holm. Ditmar Bosecke, Head of Marketing at Globetrotter says: "Our customers very much like to be outside, they love nature and act responsible to the environment. So the availability of bioplastic bags offered us a good opportunity to do something in this respect as well." Globetrotter asked their customers in an internet poll about their opinion and as the result was overwhelming, Globetrotter decided to introduce shopping bags of biobased and biodegradable plastics right away. Globetrotter does not charge any money for these bags.
An Indian example
When Perses Bilimoria, founder and CEO of Earthsoul India, launched shopping bags made of Mater-Bi in India in 2001, hardly anybody wanted to believe that this could be a success in a developing country like India.
Today Earthsoul sells in excess of 300,000 shopping bags annually in India, certified according to EN 13432. Even if this number is small in comparison with the total number of plastic shopping bags being used in the country, "Earthsoul is creating an awareness and a special experience around the values of conservation, sustainability and dignity for the elements of nature for the customers who use an Earthsoul bag," says Perses Bilimoria.
Most of the customers are organic food markets, high-end pastry and delicatessen shops, liquor stores, deluxe hotels and spas. Perses Bilimoria believes that although this certainly is still just a niche market, these are customers who are decision makers in the corporate world and the message is clearly understood in terms of good green governance and sustainable environmental practices.
With a growing population of almost 1.4 billion (more than China), by 2025 India will have a mature market for bioplastics based on renewable natural raw materials such as corn starch, which can be easily sourced from within the country.
In addition, Perses Bilimoria has been instrumental in convincing the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) to implement and follow the guidelines of EN 13432 and ASTM D 6400-99 for bioplastics in India, together with adequate compost labelling protocols. India shall shortly adopt the equivalent to the new ISO 17088 or EN 13432.
Perses Bilimoria is somewhat concerned however about the fact that India – like Europe – is facing the problems of oxo-degradable and additive based synthetic polymers, saying that they are "flooding the market in disguise as "biodegradable bags". India is a very price sensitive market and most people are not educated on the aspects of biodegradability and compostability, thus it becomes very difficult to convince buyers about the difference between an EN 13432 certified product and those that are only degradable," Perses says.
Shopping totes – the fashionable style
Shopping bags made from renewable resources can also be completely different. Chameleon Packaging, a Division of Design &Source Productions, Inc., New York, for example, offers tote bags made of the PLA fibre material Ingeo™. Chameleon Packaging began developing samples with NatureWorks Ingeo fabrics in 2004, but realised that most fabrics were developed only for the garment industry, making them typically too soft for application in bags. The backbone of Ingeo has been so supportive, that NatureWorks has offered opportunities to discuss development for new fabrics that would be more suitable for bags. The few projects specified with Ingeo typically obtain much, but the average customer has not wanted in the end to pay the difference in material costs. "But as the costs come down and such bags become more competitive and give the opportunity to use better materials, there will be more and more inquiries, and that will turn into more projects," says Nicole Smith, environmental director of Chameleon Packaging. The customers need time to recognise that the material will still be around, be consistent, have enough production output to meet their needs, and be reliable in a few years time, as well as good for the environment. Chameleon Packaging's commitment to sustainable materials is steadfast, and it is convinced that Ingeo has a large potential for its current and future customers. "Overall," says Nicole, "I believe the non-woven material has the greatest potential. Non-woven bags have become really popular in all of the sustainably focused shops and stores".
These are just a few examples of the successful introduction of bioplastic shopping bags. Shopping bags made of bioplastics can definitely not solve all the problems connected with plastic bags. Littering, for example, is more a question of education than of the material. The effect of bioplastic bags on the killing of marine life in the oceans, if there is any, is not yet been sufficiently researched. But their advantages surely offer a market potential in the months and years to come.
Reference: http://www.bioplasticsmagazine.com/ Issue 02/2006 (Sept)
Excessive packaging under the spotlight again - Date: 26/01/2007
Campaign run in UK national newspaper. 26 January 2007 - A campaign launched by The Independent newspaper against "excessive" packaging of consumer goods has received some limited support from the Packaging Federation. Its new chief executive, Dick Searle, is happy that the national daily has laid blame at the door of the retailer and consumer – rather than the packaging industry. Searle, who took up the post at the Federation earlier this week, said: "At the end of the day the packaging is specified by retailers but often in the past the packaging industry has been blamed." However, he argued that it was unrealistic to think that demand for individually portioned meals will drop off due to environmental concerns. He said: "95% want to buy individually portioned meals and supermarkets are not stupid – people buy them because they want them and it's become an integral part of society as we know it." On Monday The Independent ran a series of articles around recycling and urged readers to write in with examples of "excessive" packaging, which it then printed on Tuesday. These have included: recycled loo rolls wrapped in non-recyclable plastic; plastic wrapping and bags around fruit and vegetables; oversized bottles for vitamins; and plastic wrapping around computer and electrical items such as memory cards. Searle said the newspaper missed an opportunity to highlight the lack of joined-up thinking between recycling and industry. While glass is recycled fairly easily more could be done with plastics, paper and card. He said: "It's a bitter irony that we are all arguing about energy – a lack of energy when we are thinking of not incinerating products." Finally, Searle added: "Is this campaign responsible – well are any of them? This is a way of selling newspapers. But have they struck a chord? I believe they have." Remarks made by the minister for the local environment, Ben Bradshaw, opened up a debate on so-called excessive packaging at the end of last year (see PRW.com 17 November 2006). Jane Bickerstaffe from the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) said: "INCPEN – which represents companies involved in all parts of the packaging and products supply chain – has campaigned against excessive packaging for years. "There's still room for improvement but things are moving the right way and the industry is not complacent."
Product of the Week
Amcor Flexibles has been working in partnership with Dutch company Flora Holland to develop a modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) system for flow wrapped fresh flowers called Amcor HortiFlex, known at Flora Holland as FlowPack. The partnership of Flora Holland and Amcor Flexibles - two global leaders in their respective markets of horticulture and MAP packaging - has resulted in an exciting new innovation for the fresh cut flower market.
The principal benefits of using Amcor HortiFlex are seen in improved product quality and logistics.
The specially developed packs can be transported and displayed in store without the need for any water. This means an improved display, reduction in maintenance whilst in-store, increased distribution options and of course easy and mess free transportation for the final consumer.
Amcor Flexibles and Flora Holland are now bringing this exciting innovation to the global fresh cut flower market place so that the benefits can be utilised by all. Selected customers are currently launching products with tailored Amcor HortiFlex packaging applications for their specific market. If you are interested in finding out more about Amcor HortiFlex and how it can benefit your fresh cut flower business then please contact us for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Amcor Flexibles is the leading flexible packaging supplier to the Fresh Produce Market. Part of Amcor, one of the world's top 3 global packaging companies, the business operates 45 manufacturing plants in 18 countries in Europe and the Americas supplying a wide range of markets including food, healthcare and tobacco.
Reference: For further information please contact: www.amcor-flexibles.com
Major global PE and PP film consumers (2005,2009)
Transport products boast odor control
Omniflex LLC has developed antibacterial, odor-control versions of its Transport waterproof, breathable films and its Vacuflex barrier films.
The Greenfield, Mass., firm says the new films combine several properties in a single lamination that also helps control mold and mildew in applications such as footwear, apparel, medical textiles and upholstery.
The Transport products are made of polyurethane, copolyester or ether-amide polymers laminated to fabrics. Vacuflex films are made of moldable polyurethane and are used in automotive trim and medical devices. The odor-control feature is based on technology from Omniflex's partner Etcetera LLC of Northampton, Mass. It relies on silver or copper chemistry, or both, or nonmetallic additives.
Reference: Tel. 413-772-3773, fax 413-772-1005, e-mail email@example.com.
Rockwell launches PLA peelable film by Luke Hutson 19/10/2006
Scottish firm uses proprietary heat sealing technology.
19 October – Rockwell Solutions, a UK packaging converter, believes it may have the world's first compostable, peelable lidding film for PLA trays. Biopic is a clear, peelable PLA lidding or flow wrap film for biodegradable applications. The company said the film is suitable for use in chilled and frozen conditions.
According to the Dundee-based converter, the film has a broad sealing window and can be perforated.
Rockwell uses its own heat seal technology and, according to its website, became one of the first companies in the United Kingdom to achieve ISO 9002 and BRC certification.
EPN's and PRW's Bioplastics conference, now in its 8th year, will be held on 6-7 December in Frankfurt, Germany.
Reference: For details contact Emap conferences on +44 (0)20 7841 4811 (International) or 0845 056 5069 (UK only), or visit www.bpevent.com
Featured Product - COMPOBAG (As featured on Plastics &Rubber Weekly)
Polybags launches new domestic biodegradable PE bag
West London blown film firm Polybags has launched Compo-Bag, a biodegradable PE bag. The bag degrades in nine to 12 months and is aimed at domestic users for their organic waste, such as vegetable peelings, tea bags and egg shells, prior to disposal on compost heaps.
Polybags produces both the film and the Compo-Bags, which, to date, have mainly been sold to private customers. They are available in a range of stock sizes and Polybags believes it is the first UK supplier to provide this service for a biodegradable bag.
The bags, which are based on an Oxodegradable additive system, were developed by Polybags in conjunction with London Metropolitan University's Polymer Centre through the governments' Knowledge Transfer Partnership. KTP associate Manthan Fadia was recruited by Polybags to help develop the Compo-Bag product range and its increase Polybags productivity.
Fadia says demand is picking up following the biodegradable bag's introduction. Commercial users of biodegradable bags and sacks, however, want a product that degrades more quickly than the current Compo-Bag, typically within three months.
As a result, this type of eco-product is now under development at Polybags, based on different degradability technology. Customer trials have been agreed with larger-scale users, such as local councils.
Polybags produces a wide range of bags and sacks, including printed carriers, grip and zip seal bags and waste sacks produced from recycled polymer.
For more information please visit www.polybags.co.uk &www.londonmet.ac.uk
Reference: Plastics &Rubber Weekly - 14th April'06