jeudi 20 novembre 2008

Bioplastic Packaging: Promise vs. Reality

Packagers are interested in bioplastics, but generally not quite ready to commit.

Judging from the attendance at Intertech-Pira's recent conference on bioplastics, there is high interest in these materials. However, consumer product goods companies (CPGs) who participated in the conference raised numerous questions about the use of bioplastics. Many participants would agree, I'm sure, that bioplastics' time has not yet come, but it can't be far off.

The use of petroleum-based plastics continues to grow around the world. One speaker estimated that 1 trillion lb of traditional plastic resins are created each year. The benefits of these plastics in packaging are undeniable. They have excellent barrier properties to protect products, can be used in rigid containers or flexible packaging, and are lightweight, allowing source material reduction on packaging. The questions are: At what cost to the environment; and how long will limited petroleum resources be available for this use?

In an age where sustainability is one of the biggest issues facing the packaging industry, it would seem that bioplastics should catch on like wildfire. Yet, many CPGs at the conference expressed caution about their use.

The source of biopolymers is a living, green cell. The main difference between biopolymers and hydrocarbon polymers is that, due to their physical and chemical structure biopolymers can be broken down by micororganisms to compost and become part of the soil again.

BCC Research estimates the market for biodegradabale plastics reached 541 million lb in 2007 and is expected to reach 1.2 billion lb by 2012—a tiny fraction of total plastics usage.

Bioplastics also have many barriers to overcome before their use becomes more general. The cost, performance, moisture-barrier properties, recycling-stream contamination and use of food crops all need improvements. However, several long-term trends will drive the growth of bioplastics: volatile oil prices; energy security concerns; environmental benefits; favorable regulatory intiatives; and the improving performance and competitiveness of bioplastic resins.

As Alex Marvel of Fiji Water says, “We will continue to monitor bio-based plastics with interest. Fiji Water prioritizes the safety of its products for the consumption and well-being of its customers. The company will not change the packaging material from PET unless the new material can preserve the product integrity at a level comparable to PET and results in a post-consumer, environmental impact that is comparable or better than that of recycled PET.”

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