News focus: The sustainable future of packaging

The coming of age for bio-based plastics

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biodegradable plastic, Bioplastic

In the first part of a look back at major developments at this
year's Interpack trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany, examines the challenges facing the emergence of
bioplastics in consumer packaging.

Amidst growing interest in the market for bio-based and biodegradable packaging, a leading supplier of the materials says the industry must address labelling and sourcing issues if it is to flourish in the future. Speaking at the Interpack trade show, Andy Sweetman, market development manager of Innovia films, said that it was possible in a few years that we could expect to see a similar trade show devoted solely to bio-based packaging as a reflection of the potential in the market. However, in a discussion from hall 7A, the only part of this year's 17-room show focused specifically on bio plastics, sentiment from those gathered appeared to be mixed over how feasible a claim this was for a relatively fledgling industry. Biodegradable future ​ Biodegradable plastics, which are often produced from renewable sources, are being increasingly sought after by food processors as part of a solution to environmental concerns over waste and fossil fuels use. Sweetman claimed that while there were concerns in the industry over the impact of renewably sourced packaging further exacerbating growing food prices, the packaging industry had to move to a renewable future. "Bio-plastics are a young industry, which we often say is relatively still in nappies, so it is possible we won't be using the same materials in another five years,"​he said. "Nonetheless, we have no choice to move away from non-renewable sources, so we must not put barriers on renewable products that does not exist on non-renewable packaging." ​WhileSweetman claimed that Innovia itself sourced its Natureflex biodegradable films from wood pulp, food sources do have use within the industry. Innovation​ He went on to tell delegates therefore that imposing restrictions on bio-packaging, for example by requiring processors to not use food crop devised packaging or 100 per cent renewable materials, would only setback innovation. In addressing future areas for bioplastics growth, he suggested that developments could see packaging derived from wheat by products not needed in food production. View from the flip side ​ Despite Sweetman's own predictions, other packagers were not quite as convinced of the extent that biodegradable packs could have on the industry. BASF, a major supplier of polymers and other chemicals for use in a variety of industries like consumer packaging, said that while it was actively stepping up production of its bioplastic products, the segment remained a small part of its wider operations. A company spokesperson told at Interpack that consumer and processors demanded many different properties from their packaging and not all of these can be possible. She added therefore that bioplastic use in packaging was not always an option, and any applications they may have had to be carefully suited to a number of criteria. "It is company policy that bio-based materials should not compete with food production,"​ she stated. "The packaging materials must also have significant environmental benefits for us to move ahead with any concept." ​ This news focus will be continued on throughout this week.

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