If successful, the commercial deployment of PBS would provide Europe with a competitive edge over the US and Asia, and bring the EU a step closer to the concept of a circular economy.
Keep investment costs low
Christophe Cotillon, coordinator of SUCCIPACK (Development of active, intelligent and sustainable food packaging using polybutylene succinate) said the consortium has spent two years tweaking PBS grades, structure, formulation, treatment and recycling routes to make the material suitable for a wide adoption by the food packaging market and keep investment costs low.
“PBS-based packaging has been tested on different food products such as cheese, ready-to-eat vegetables, meat and fish products,” he said.
“The expected benefits in terms of shelf life are at least comparable with existing packaging and sometimes even perform better. By continuing to improve barrier properties like antimicrobial coating and other aspects (gas, vapour, aroma), we will be able to achieve better preservation of food products compared to existing food packaging.”
Each year, the average EU citizen generates about 159kg of packaging waste and around 40 % of that is not recycled.
The EU-funded SUCCIPACK project was set up to progressively phase out fossil fuel-based packaging in favour of bio-based solutions.
Cotillon, who coordinated the project on behalf of ACTIA, said PBS-based packaging offers a good quality of packaging for food, which doesn’t have to shy away from comparisons with existing packaging especially with regards to meeting food safety requirements.
Improving barrier properties of packaging
“By improving the barrier properties of this new packaging, the shelf-life of food products can be improved, and as we develop multi-functionality only one film will be needed to protect the food product, thus eliminating the need for different layers of packaging and over-packaging.”
Speaking about why the team chose PBS, he added it is a ‘platform component’ with applications in different industrial sectors.
“It is already used by the petrochemical industry, but it can also be 100 % bio-based,” said Cotillon.
“Bio-based PBS can be produced easily from cellulosic material and renewable sources of plant biomass, be it plants or plant waste. In the future, we expect the capacity of production to increase, so availability of bio-based PBS will not be a problem.”
Packaging producers can use PBS packaging to produce films, trays and pouches with the same technologies they are using for current packaging materials such as injection, moulding, extrusion film blowing and thermo-forming.
According to Cotillon, the packaging could be commercialised in two years. In the early stages, the PBS used for packaging fabrication will not be 100 % based on bio-material. It will be a mix of petrochemical and bio-based raw materials.
Then, progressively, PBS packaging will contain more and more PBS from bio-based material because the production capacity for PBS will increase in Europe.