The company's Ecovio plastic is made up of 45 per cent polylactic acid (PLA), a material obtained from corn and developed by Cargill's NatureWorks unit. The other component is BASF's existing biodegradable plastic Ecoflex, which is derived from petrochemicals.
It provides another biodegradable packaging alternative in a growing market for environmentally friendly products. Many analysts believe that biodegradable packaging has a bright future.
Growing environmental awareness and consumer power coupled with the rise in pre-packaged disposable meals means that food manufacturers and packagers are increasingly being targeted to reduce their products' impact on the environment.
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 polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The sharp rise in the prices for petroleum, a major component of PET, has made PLA a competitive alternative.
Over the next five years BASF expects the world market for biodegradable plastics to grow by more than 20 per cent per year.
"The global market for biodegradable plastics is still small, but is growing very rapidly," the company stated. "Ecovio will enable us to further increase our market share in this attractive business."
Ecovio can be used to produce flexible films from which biodegradable carrier bags or other packaging can be made. Food packaging for such products as yogurt can be produced if other components are added to Ecovio.
Biodegradable plastics are completely degraded within a few weeks under compositing conditions and may be produced from either petrochemical or renewable raw materials. BASF plans to start marketing Ecovio in Europe next spring. The company plans to launch Ecovio in Asia and North America during 2006.
BASF is the latest user of NatureWorks' PLA. The company made inroads into the European marketplace, ith retailers like Auchan in France and Delhaize in Belgium, which are testing the company's PLA product on a number of food products. In the US Wal-Mart said its Sam's Club outlets began using PLA for packaging in fresh cut produce starting in November 2005.
PLA, a starch derivative, 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. PLA can be also used for non-carbonated beverages such as water, juices, milk, as well as edible oil products.