Many analysts believe that biodegradable packaging has a bright future. Growing environmental awareness and consumer power coupled with the inexorable rise in pre-packaged disposable meals meansthat food manufacturers and packagers are increasingly being targeted to improve their environmental performances
In addition, a combination of pricing and retail uptake has led more and more processors to look at biodegradable natural polymer products such as PLA as an alternative to polyethyleneterephthalate (PET). US-based NatureWorks, a Cargill unit, produces the PLA.
Stanleco will use the PLA in its version, called Starpol 2000 in a deal with NatureWorks.
PLA can be produced from maize and other plants. It is a biodegradable, compostable plastic material. The material is available in a range of blends and can be used in sheet or film form for a diverse range of products including food containers.
Stanelco said its Starpol 2000 has been approved for all food contact in the EU following analysis and testing carried out by the Packaging International Research Association (PIRAInternational).
Food contact approval has also been granted for Starpol 2000 for fruit and vegetables in the US, with tests continuing for contact with all other food types to meet Food and Drug Administrationstandards. Starpol 2000 is a PLA available in both flexible and rigid forms.
The company also announced UK-based Asda has agreed a 30-day exclusivity period for the UK supermarket chain to approve the Starpol 2000 material for use with Stanelco's heat-sealing technology,called Greenseal. The testing would include use of the material for modified atmosphere packaging.
Under the agreement Stanleco has released Starpol 2000 material to some of Asda's suppliers for trial use in packaging products for the Wal-Mart owned supermarket chain. The exclusivity period iseffective in the UK and Ireland.
Stanelco claims its Greenseal heat-sealing technology is cheaper, better for the environment and helps ensure that perishable foods are safer for the consumer when it is used for modifiedatmosphere packaging.
Retailers like Auchan in France are already using the PLA in packaging for salads, switching from PET in April this year. Auchan buys its PLA from NatureWorks. By December the retailer will use PLAfor its pastry and plans to make the switch for its private label food products next year, said Martial Guglielmi, the company's packaging purchasing manager.
Delhaize has also made the move, testing NatureWorks' PLA in packaging at a store in Belgium. Signs and labels alert consumers that a range of food containers are made from renewable resources, areenvironmentally-friendly and compost.
Both Auchan and Delhaize are absorbing the extra cost of the PLA packaging.