Organics and packaging

Tuesday, 15 September, 2009

Environmentally conscious consumers like to buy organic - preferably also in organic packaging. Not least because, as we all know, the plastics used today all come from the same source that one day, sooner or later, is going to dry up – crude oil. For this reason, the packaging sector is moving more towards renewable materials.

The market for organic plastics, made from renewable resources like wheat, maize or sugar cane, is growing annually by 20 to 30%. Already we are seeing the first organic containers for non-carbonated drinks and for the processing of liquid foods. The main material to mention here is polylactic acid (PLA), as its properties are like those of PET. As a result, PLA has tremendous growth potential, because in 2009 alone no fewer than 350 billion PET containers will be produced worldwide.

The second big market, alongside containers, is in packaging foils. Here, too, there are some interesting new developments: in an EU research project, for example, new-style flexible papers with a multilayer structure are being developed entirely out of renewable resources. The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging is delivering special techniques which improve the barrier properties (to water vapour and oyygen) of the pre-coated paper. Antimicrobial coatings are also being worked on. In one of these materials whey protein is being used - to give the foil excellent barrier properties against oxygen and moisture. In addition, the antimicrobial constituents naturally found in whey are being exploited to extend the length of time fow which foods can stay fresh.

Many organic plastics are regarded as compostable but this is only true to a certain extent. Most of them rot down very slowly, or need to be heated to fully decompose - and that of course counts against them in an eco-audit. In any case, these materials are far too valuable for them to be only used once. Recycling is, and will continue to be, the next big area for the future.

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