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SPF films conference showcases materials and technology premieres, debates sustainability issues

A new ʺcrade to cradleʺ approach for PLA recycling was described by Steve Dejonghe, Project Manager at Galactic, a major lactic acid producer. LOOPLA is a new process based on chemical recycling of PLA back into lactic acid. Starting from used PLA (post-industrial or post-consumer), the process includes a pretreatment to prepare the PLA before entering into a reactor where the product is converted back into a crude lactic acid. After purification, lactic acid is obtained and can be recycled to make a virgin PLA with a yield close to 100%. The properties of this PLA are exactly the same as the original PLA.

PLA is of course a biodegradable polymer, but Dejonghe pointed out that if the polymer is allowed to degrade in the general environment, its value is lost. Chemical recycling on the other hand retains its value. The LOOPLA process is said to be low-cost, consumes little energy, and requires use of few additional chemicals. It is also robust, and can tolerate high levels of contamination. The company is already operating a 2000 t/yr unit in Belgium.

In a session on “Processor and Brand Owner Perspectives,” Achim Grefenstein, head of research at major film producer RKW, discussed “New developments in polyolefin films as sustainable products” and described the main environmental drivers from the perspective of a film manufacturer.

RKW does produce degradable film for agricultural applications, but using the example of sacks for cement, Grefenstein concluded that in many cases, PE bags are more environment-friendly than alternatives such as biodegradable polyester and paper with PE liner. His conclusion was based on a full life cycle analysis. Grefenstein also discussed such other applications as diaper backsheet, shrink sleeves for bottles, and flow wrappers to demonstrate how well-tuned conventional thermoplastics and process technologies can provide sustainable solutions to numerous packaging problems.

Andy Sweetman is Business Development and Sustainability Manager at Innovia Films, which makes bioplastic films (cellulosic types made from wood pulp sourced from managed plantations) as well as BOPP films. He talked about the company’s NaturFlex films and how Innovia is working towards meeting brand owner sustainability objectives. He said sustainability requires focus on four key elements of a product life cycle: the raw materials, the process to make the product, its functionality and its end-of-life treatment.

He said functionality is the most important of these, since wastage of package contents is a major factor. Compostable materials are typically permeable, so they perform well for ‘short shelf-life’ perishable foods, but need to prove their suitability for dry food applications, he noted. Innovia has developed NatureFlex NK, which he described as the first “off the shelf” biofilm to offer BOPP-like moisture vapour barrier properties.

Michael Remus, a Senior Scientist in Package Development at Procter & Gamble, said P&G has set the development focus in the flexible packaging sector on “delivering outstanding packages on shelf, at best possible cost, highest development speed and lowest environmental footprint, in partnership with film, resin and equipment manufacturers.” Remus said that with so many consumer buying decisions now being made at the time of purchase, it is more important than ever that technology is translated into “consumer meaningful” applications. He emphasized that P&G’s package development requires partners that can meet the scale, global needs and technology range of its businesses.


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