Home » Plastics raw materials – bioplastics grab limelight

Plastics raw materials – bioplastics grab limelight

When it comes to trends in the plastics packaging converting industry, raw material technology plays a crucial role. Improved quality, shorter lead times and lower unit costs are among requirements, with material technology contributing to all three.

One important field is polymer additives with the potential to increase quality and productivity. Commonly used are slip agents for easier demoulding, process stabilisers for melt and colour stability and nucleating agents for faster cycle times.

Another important issue is safety when it comes to food contact, particularly for plastics packaging.

BASF, for instances, was among the first to offer a special FC (Food Contact) grade in its PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) range: Called Ultradur B 1520 FC, it has a high barrier to water vapour, oxygen and aroma, without the need for additional coatings. Its food contact certification makes it suitable for coffee capsules and thin-walled, injection-moulded packaging for food and cosmetics.

Buzzword is bioplastics

But, above all, the buzzword in the raw materials arena right now is bioplastics. This was underlined earlier this month when the 10th European Bioplastics Conference took place in Berlin, attracting more than 350 participants from industry, policy making, research and media sectors.

In his keynote address, Reinhard Büscher, head of Unit Chemicals at the European Commission, stressed the necessity to promote bio-based products to unlock Europe’s potential for a resource-efficient economy, while officially opening the conference, François de Bie, chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP), highlighted the achievements and outstanding developments of the bioplastics industry over the past decade, one of the most innovative and exciting sectors of the European bio-economy. ‘Ten years ago, bioplastics was still a buzzword. Today, my son is learning about the benefits of bio-based products in high school,’ he remarked.

A highly anticipated session was the presentation of the 2015 annual market data update, delivered by Hasso von Pogrell, EUBP’s MD. ‘The positive trend of the past ten years continues,’ he reported. ? 69According to latest market data, global bioplastics production capacity is predicted to grow by more than 350%, from around 1.7-million tons in 2014 to approximately 7.8-million tons in 2019. This development was confirmed in several other presentations by big brands and retailers, such as IKEA and Marks & Spenser, outlining their commitments and initiatives to become more sustainable and the role of bioplastics in achieving these ambitious goals. ‘By 2020, 100% of our plastics will be made from renewable and recycled sources,’ explained IKEA’s sustainability developer, Per Stoltz.

At the concurrent exhibition, 24 companies showcased a great diversity of products, materials and applications.

Among five finalists for this year’s Global Bioplastics Award were two packaging-related entries. A Schulman, together with a consortium formed by Germaine de Capuccini, Petroplast and the Ainia Aimplas alliance, were nominated for the successful development of the first biodegradable flexible tube for cosmetic products. The A Schulman’s R&D team succeeded in finding the appropriate compostable material to replace conventional polyethylene in flexible cosmetics tubes. The new bioresin is a reinforced biopolymers alloy, obtained by reactive extrusion, which can be particularly processed into a tube using conventional extrusion blow moulding equipment.

The second packaging-related nomination was Tetra Pak’s bio-based Tetra Rex, the world’s first fully renewable liquid food carton – produced from renewable, recyclable and traceable FSC-certified paper packaging and bio-based plastic derived entirely from sugar cane (Braskem’s bio PE). After launching the world’s first FSC-labelled cartons in 2007, and introducing caps made from certified and traceable sugar cane (bio PE) in 2011, the next step was to combine this development of certified paperboard and bioplastic into the world’s first fully-renewable carton.

PLA offers carbon footprint reduction

Among news from Germany is the launch of new PLA bioplastic product portfolio by Corbion Purac.

These PLA homopolymer resins are available in a range of melt viscosities and deliver improved heat resistance over standard PLA. These grades can be used as neat resin or as part of a compound in order to optimise overall material properties.

PLA is a bio-based plastic derived from natural resources and offers a significant reduction in carbon footprint compared to oil-based plastics. Corbion uses carbohydrates as the raw material to produce lactic acid, which is polymerised into PLA, currently used in a variety of applications, including packaging and food serviceware.

Combining high biobased content with a low carbon footprint, PLA is a great replacement for PS, PP and ABS. Furthermore, PLA is an extremely adaptable material that can be processed on existing equipment, with commercially acceptable cycle times. This offers converters and brand owners an opportunity to be a sustainability frontrunner in their field, for both their products and their packaging.

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