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Europe edges closer to sustainable packaging goal with 3 innovative approaches

2020-01-22 16:49 Wednesday

All over the world from North America to Asia Pacific, to Western Europe, consumers and manufacturers are slowly waking up to the issue of plastic packaging and the race is on to research the most suitable alternatives available.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), since the 1950s over 8.3bn tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide and the earth's citizens now generate about 300m tonnes of plastic waste annually.


The UNEP suggests only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, with 79 percent ending up in dumps, landfills or the natural environment. The most common types of plastic waste are drinks bottles, lids, grocery bags, food wrappers, straws and stirrers, followed by cigarette butts. As such, the F&B industry is being decisively told to take action.

The sector is trying hard to address the issue of single-use plastic already. It's also trying to find sustainable replacements for industry staples such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) used in water bottles; high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in dairy packaging and ice cream containers; and low-density polyethylene (LDPE) in food containers, trays and plastic wrapping.

For example, the UK-based firm Element has developed a range of bio-derived, compostable materials to be used in place some of these plastics. Director and co-founder Rohit Belani said this includes using cornstarch in cups, cutlery for takeaways and clamshell boxes. It also uses polylactic acid (PLA), a cornstarch derivative, for the linings of food box.

"Polylactic acid looks, acts and feels just like traditional plastics such as PET but it has some of the strongest eco-credentials available." At first, the products were only compostable at home, but these days the company is working to ensure the replacements can be thrown away via special bins inside restaurants after they are used.

Over the Channel in France, another company called Lactips has come up with an alternative solution. It uses a milk protein to create biodegradable and water-soluble thermoplastic pellets which can be turned into packaging.

"100 percent biodegradable and bio-sourced, the material has the properties of a specialty plastic. It's water-soluble, edible and customizable. It's a real opportunity to transform non-biodegradable flexible packaging and replace single-use plastics," says CEO Marie-Hélène Gramatikoff.

The granules can be used in packaging for products such as cereal bars, chocolate, sports nutrition and sauce, in addition to disposable cutlery and lids.

A new field of exploration is creating packaging that can be eaten. Back in the UK, a start-up called Label Says has made edible labels in collaboration with the University of Sunderland. The idea is to eliminate the requirement to attach packaging for labels by replacing it with printed, scannable codes made from food-grade ink on edible labels.

At the moment, such labels are suitable for meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and drinks. They can be stuck straight on to the side of the product itself or on to a minimal backing as required.

"Where other packaging is still required, the code can also provide information on how to recycle the product. This is very exciting; we're already in discussion with food producers and supermarkets," says Peter Woods, managing director.

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