The focus of the 2019 TAPPI European PLACE Conference presentations was mainly on reducing the impact food and packaging waste have on the environment by establishing more efficient recycling programs and creating biodegradable materials and technologies that contribute to a circular economy. New packaging materials and structures such as recyclable mono-material packages and sustainable/biodegradable cellulose barrier coatings were among hot topics discussed. Below, Marc Kullberg, Technical Sales Representative for Mica’s European customers, shares some key takeaways from the conference.
Is Packaging the Only Problem?
According to a presentation by Frans Silvenius of The Natural Resources Institute of Finland entitled, “The Role of Packaging in Relation to Food Waste and Environmental Impact of the Entire System,” Finland currently has 400-500 million kg of food waste per year which corresponds to the C02 emission of 400,000 cars. The climate impact of food waste from cucumbers, bread, or ham alone is considerably larger than the plastic packaging container in Finland. In instances where packaging helps minimize food waste, then in general, packaging has a lower impact on the environment than food waste does!
On the topic of minimizing food waste, Andreas Roos of AMETEK GmbH gave the presentation, “Does Your Packaging Meet the Shelf Life Requirements Your Packaging Materials Promises,” which focused on barrier testing of the whole package, rather than a small sample, and comparing it to the flat film laminate. Liquid packaging paper-board containers resulted in a 300-500X reduced oxygen barrier in the whole package testing mostly due to flex cracking in corner areas. Potato chip bags resulted in 26-46% lower oxygen barrier in the whole package testing. Production, handling and shipping of packages can significantly influence the final barrier of packaging, as well. The flat material shows the barrier performance of the packaging material at its best. If the barrier properties of the whole package can sustain food contents the way they promise to, there will be less food waste, and therefore a lower impact on the environment.
Strides Toward a Circular Economy
The presentation ‘Plastics & Planet: From Linear to Circular’ by Rudolph Koopmans of the Plastics Innovation Competence Centre (PICC)claims thatproducers of packaging tend to shun accountability of plastic packaging end of life and the impact it has on the environment. In order to obtain a successful circular economy, makers of plastic packaging will have to take accountability for the end life of plastic. Consumers continue to demand plastic packaging, especially in high population growth areas such as the Far East and Africa, because of convenience and individualization. So how can a circular economy be obtained?
It’s possible. Currently, Switzerland and Sweden come close to achieving 50% energy recovery and 50% recycle of municipal waste. Sweden uses 7 different receptacles to sort the rubbish. Europe has an action plan for the circular economy that includes:
o A common EU target for recycling is 65% of municipal waste by 2035(~40% in 2015)
o A common EU target for recycling 70% of packaging waste by 2030(~25% recycled, ~50% landfill in 2015)
o Recycle targets for specific packaging materials
o Landfill target to a maximum 10% of municipal waste by 2035
o Extend producer responsibility schemes to improve their governance and cost efficiency
New Materials and Technologies that Help Promote a Circular Economy
CNF: Cellulose is the most abundant, broadly distributed organic polymer in the world. Fibrillated cellulose (CNF) is recyclable and biodegradable. Cellulose-based three-layer films based on modified CNF were produced and show improved oxygen and moisture barrier properties. The three-layer film structure can be produced in existing machinery and is compostable/recycle ready. (Summary was drawn from the presentation ‘Innovative Cellulose-based Multi-layer Packaging Films’ by Mika Vähä-Nissi, VTT Technical Research Center of Finland)
CNC: Cellulose Nanocrystals (CNC) are a biomaterial produced from a sustainable source. They are needle-shaped, have a high aspect ratio (5x100nm, 20/1), and comply with TSCA regulations in the U.S. CNC’s can be incorporated into biopolymer matrices or into the synthetic polymer chain. Water-based coatings of CNC’s(+plasticizer) on PLA film show improvements of 9X CO2 barrier, 8X O2 barrier and 1.5X moisture barrier over PLA film itself. The CNC crystal shape allows for shear thinning which can be beneficial for coating. CNC’s can be used in dry form, water-based and solvent-based formulations. (Summary was drawn from the presentation ‘Improving Barrier Performance’ by Richard Berry of Celluforce.)
Bio-PE has been produced with similar properties as fossil-produced PE (100% from the renewable source sugar cane (CO2 from the air). One metric ton of produced bio-PE uses 3 metric tons of captured CO2 from the air. This Tubular bio-PE has a similar MWD as normal autoclave PE, however there is still more neck-in during extrusion. Bio-PE gives >95% bio-based carbon content as calculated using a C14 method. (Summary was drawn from the presentation ‘A Sustainable Solution for Extrusion Coating Applications’ by Roger Malmegrim of Braskem.
Recyclable All-Polypropylene (PP) Packages
The presentation, “Mono-materials in Multilayers” by Auli Nummila-Pakarinen of Borealis Polymers Oy focused on the creation of an all PP laminate structure using extrusion lamination. They were able to produce two different structures:
o Case 1 BOPP/PP cast film using adhesive lamination
o Case 2 – BOPP/PP blown film using extrusion lamination
The result was extrusion lamination had an overall positive effect on laminate properties. Extrusion coating can be used to get a similar structure, but extrusion lamination gives more possibilities and eliminates issues with curling.
It is important to keep in mind that a circular economy is not just about recycling, reusing, and biodegradability, but also greenhouse gas evolution or consumption and how that impacts the environment. Different types of packaging will require a variety of solutions to achieve success in a circular economy. As presented at this conference, there are several potential solutions to create a circular economy, but somehow the industries involved will have to fit these parts together to make it succeed. A lot of progress is being made, but we will have to move faster.
About Mica Corporation:
Mica Corporation manufactures and supplies water-based, environmentally responsible products that offer adhesion or other properties to plastic, metal, and paper surfaces in continuous web applications.