Biodegradable food packaging launched in UK

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pla Polylactic acid

A UK company has launched a new range of convenience food packs
manufactured from biodegradable plastic.

Over the past two years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics made from a variety of plants, in the main corn, based on projections that there will be a growing demand for environmentally-friendly packaging driven by consumers and recycling regulations.

Some companies are predicting that the market will grow by about 20 per cent a year, as an alternative to petroleum-based packaging such as the widely-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

RPC Bebo UK Bristol is the latest to launch such packaging in Europe. The company has produced its packaging from biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA), a corn-based polymer made by US-based NatureWorks.

The PLA supplier is part of Cargill and is one the main movers behind the biodegradable packaging trend.

RPC Bebo's convenience food packaging is available in four sizes - 375ml, 650ml and 1500ml. The 650ml size is available in single and twin compartment versions.

The packs incorporate a special positive stacking feature, with a recess in the lid that allows a second pack of the same size to sit on top in order to maximise shelf space.

The new range has been created for a variety of convenience products including leaf salads, pasta salads, fresh fruit, snacks and other delicatessen products, the company stated in a press release. The packs can also be made out of amorphous PET (APET).

"The introduction of the PLA packs is an important addition to our product offering,"​ stated Gaynor Billard, RPC Bebo UK Bristol's sales and marketing manager. "It allows food suppliers to use packs with a more positive environmental profile that still deliver the high levels of quality and performance required in this competitive market."

PLA can be used for rigid thermoforms, films, labels and bottles. Due to its biodegradable features it cannot be used for hot-fill and gaseous drinks like beer or sodas. PLA degrades under commercial composting conditions in 75 to 80 days, the company claims.

It forms a flavour and aroma barrier comparable to PET, readily accepts coatings, inks and adhesives. Its stiffness allows for down gauging when converting from materials like PET without a loss of strength. Heat seals can be made as low as 80C, resulting in faster packaging times and increased output.

Monolayer PLA bottles can be formed on the same injection moulding and stretch blow-moulding equipment used for PET, with no sacrifice in production rate.

Auchan in France is using the PLA packaging for its salads, switching from PET in April last year. By December the retailer planned to use PLA for its pastry and to make the switch for its private label food products this year.

Both Auchan and Delhaize said they are absorbing the extra cost of the PLA packaging. Delhaize is also lobbying the Belgian government to create a separate composting stream for PLA, which would make it more attractive to environmentally conscious consumers.

Others suppliers hoping to cash in on the market include Amcor, which has teamed up with Plantic Technologies to develop a biodegradable, flexible plastic packaging for confectionary. Danish-based Danisco announced last year that it has produced a plasticiser from hardened castor oil and acetic acid. It is colourless, odorless and completely biodegradable.

Another company competing in the biodegradable packaging market is UK-based Stanelco. The company markets a natural, biodegradable food packaging based on starch, called Starpol 2000.

Germany-based BASF has also announced it will launch a biodegradable plastic based on renewable raw materials in a bid to meet what it believes will be a growing demand for environmentally-friendly packaging. The company's Ecovio plastic is made up of 45 per cent PLA from NatureWorks. The other component is BASF's existing biodegradable plastic Ecoflex, which is derived from petrochemicals.

BASF forecasts that the world market for biodegradable plastics to grow by more than 20 per cent per year.

Companies like US-based Naturally Iowa have been using PLA for packaging products like organic milk. Retailers like Delhaize in Belgium and Auchan in France have also been testing PLA for various food packaging.

In 2005, the price of all energy products increased by 17 per cent, according to a report by Ireland's government on its domestic food sector. Included in this increase were average changes in the year of about 20 per cent for motor fuels and eight per cent for electricity.

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