On November 28-29, 2017, the industry association European Bioplastics (EUBP) held its 12th annual conference, themed “Bioplastics – Making the difference,” in Berlin, Germany (FPF reported). About 300 attendants followed the presentations from regulators, research institutes and consultancies, brand owners, chemical manufacturers, bioplastic producers and product developers, environmental institutions, composting and recycling experts, as well as academic researchers.
On the first day, brand owners addressed how they employ bioplastics to make their business more sustainable. Kevin Vyse of UK retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) highlighted that collection of plastic packaging waste needs to be promoted among consumers in order to boost recycling. He further pointed out that it is difficult to create closed-loop systems in an open, global society. Therefore, bioplastics could be an attractive solution in the circular economy. However, communication about bioplastics has to be very cautious in order to correctly educate consumers. In the scope of its “Plan A,” M&S has committed to making all of its product packaging recyclable and widely recycled. Also, M&S will assess the feasibility of making all of its plastic packaging from one polymer group to maximize the use of recycled content. M&S is a participant in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative (FPF reported).
Sandeep Kulkarni of PepsiCo outlined how the company aims to reduce its green house gas emissions from packaging. Therefore, PepsiCo will increase the use of recycled and bio-based materials, and make all of its packaging recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025. Also PepsiCo is a participant in the New Plastics Economy initiative.
Françoise Poulat of Danone and Jean-François Briois of Nestlé Waters presented the two companies’ alliance to bring a 100% bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle on the market. The project is currently at pilot scale with the aim to go on the market by 2020 and operate a commercial plant no later than 2022. Both Danone and Nestlé are participating in the New Plastics Economy initiative.
Regarding food packaging applications, Leela Sarena Dilkes-Hoffman from the University of Queensland, Australia, and Stefan Corbus of Kuraray EVAL Europe explored the benefits of using bio-based and biodegradable materials in multilayer food packaging. Multilayer packaging has superior water and gas barrier properties, therefore making it favorable for food preservation and preventing spoilage over single-material packaging. However, it is difficult to recycle because its layers consist of different materials. Thus, composting could be an interesting alternative for multilayers to avoid incineration or landfilling of the packaging.
On the second day, Katrin Schwede of EUBP provided a market data update for bioplastics. Over the next five years, the global market for bioplastics is projected to grow by 20%. In the field of bio-based, biodegradable plastics, polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are the main drivers of growth in the global bioplastics production capacity. In the field of bio-based, non-biodegradable plastics, bio-based polyethylene (PE), bio-based polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene furanoate (PEF) are expected to grow. With a market share of nearly 60% in 2017, packaging remains the largest sector of application for bioplastics. Over 50% of bioplastics are currently produced in Asia, whereas 20% of the production capacity is located in Europe. With the European Commission’s commitment to the circular economy, production in Europe is predicted to grow to up to 25% by 2022.
Ramani Narayan from Michigan State University, U.S., gave a keynote presentation about scientific studies reporting on macro- and microorganisms degrading or digesting plastics. One example is a 2017 study on wax moth caterpillars that were found to eat holes into PE film (FPF reported). Narayan explained that organisms usually cannot use 100% of plastic as an energy source (contrary to e.g. sugar). Therefore, just because plastics go through a worm’s gut, does not mean that the plastic is gone. It just means that the plastic is likely discolored and further fragmented, resulting in even more and smaller plastic particles. Narayan stated that biodegradation, especially by macroorganisms, is not a magic solution to plastic pollution and called studies suggesting otherwise “misleading, troubling and irresponsible.” Instead, we should aim for closed-loop material cycles and biodegradable plastics should mainly be used as an enabling technology to divert organic waste from landfill and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he concluded.
Regarding bio-based building blocks and polymers, Erol Beyatli of Synvina reported on the status of the company’s production of PEF (FPF reported). Synvina aims to run a commercial reference plant by 2021 and produce at industrial scale by 2025. Beyatli highlighted the benefits of PEF: It is a 100% bio-based and renewable polymer, 100% recyclable, and has improved barrier properties for oxygen and moisture. PEF can thus improve food shelf-life and is suitable for e.g. flexible film packaging and bottles. PEF to PEF recycling works similar to that of PET, and PEF appears to have less of an effect on PET recycling than e.g. PLA, Beyatli explained. Synvina was granted interim approval for the recyclability of PEF in the European bottle recycling market by the European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) (FPF reported).
EUBP (November 30, 2017). “Bioplastics are making the difference.”
EUBP (November 29, 2017). “Global market for bioplastics to grow by 20 percent.”