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AIP on plastics for green packaging

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The 2007 year, which is the forty-fourth that  Australian Institute of Packaging  [AIP] has been conducting monthly meetings, was a joint venture with the Society of Plastics Engineers [SPE] where AIP brought five speakers to the podium to discuss plastics for Green Packaging.

The theme for the meeting came about from a survey of members last year when over 40% of respondents asked for sessions dealing with environmental issues. An alternate title could have been Form, File and Spiel.

The keynote address by PACIA was entitled using degradable plastics in Australia-Product Stewardship Guide and Commitment. Justification for the existence of PACIA [and for that matter any industry lobby] was explained as being able to do what an individual could not particularly in the minefield of Government interface.

Bakelite is a brand named material based on the thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, developed in 19071909 by Dr. Leo Baekeland. According to PACIA, plastics really came about because the world was running out of elephants which were slaughtered for the ivory in their tusks. One kilogram of plastic is equal to the tusks of 15000 elephants, so right off plastics were good for the environment; not to mention the elephants.

But a hundred years on plastics are well positioned but have an image problem, according to PACIA. PACIA sheeted this directly to manufacturers who use false and misleading information that confuses consumers.

But The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] is red hot on manufacturers who claim that a plastic is degradable or compostable but can not show evidence in support. ACCC uses Australain Standard 14021 [2002] as the verifaicator for claims made about a product. So the message for the Industry support body is: have evidence before making the claim then evidence and more evidence. Information is contained on PACIA web site.

According to Innovia Films [Asia Pacific], compostable plastic packaging is in high demand from consumers and that the same consumers are purchasers of organic food stuffs. Organics are growing by 25% per annum and consumers will pay a premium for the product and the packaging. One overseas supermarket chain has over 500 organic product lines on sale.

Overseas Governments are commiting industry to degradable plastics by the imposition of penalties and Innovia Films [Asia Pacific] flags that governments are governments and Australia will follow.

Innovia’s choice in degradable plastics is NatureFlex which is manufactured from cropped timber and is 95% modified cellulose that degrades naturally or can be composted. The approach to remove only the tops of trees and let them coppice is sound as there is less environmental impact in many ways.

Innovia’s degradable film is now the preferred choice for sanitary products that end up in sewerage systems. Non degradable plastics used before the conversion to NatureFlex needed much attention at the treatment plant as the sanitary products arrived downstream intact and had to given special attention to get the degradable material free for processing. According to Pro-Pac Packaging [Aust], the basic material is Nature’s Recipe. The products under scrutiny were flowable and non-flowable void fillers that were introduced in 1996 to compete with polystyrene products.

Other Green Packs from Pro-Pac are Air Pac a pillow formed to cushion products in transit and Pad Loc that is a replacement for foam-in-place void fillers. Sancell completed the introduction of new products and also had a focus on protective packaging. Sancell completed a quick environmentally awareness survey using the audience which demonstrated that recycling and reuse may well be lower on the totem than spin doctors would have us believe.

Sancell’s environmental policy underpins what products it takes to the market place. The product produced is EnviroBubble that is made from 100% LDPE with totally degradable plastic additives [TDPA] blended into the resin during production. These additives trigger a process of oxidative degradation when heated by the ultra violet in sunlight and heat, then moisture, micro-organisms and oxygen cause the product to be degraded in twelve months.

Half of all Sancell’s customers have changed over to EnviroBubble giving a growth in sales of 16.5% in the last twelve months and a higher number in profitability. Marketed as EnviroProtecta Bags the white quilted bags are becoming ubiquitous and are more eye candy than the traditional paper padded mailers and small parcel packages.

CSIRO’s Green Materials and Systems research had technologists attend and speak about Biopolymer Research. The thrust of research is to look at all petrochemical based materials and find replacements in biodegradable stock. The search goes on amongst starches from wheat and corn, polylactic acid [PLA] and biodegradable oil based materials.

Plantic Technologies one of the leaders in biodegradable plastic was conceived at CSIRO and now the emphasis is on nano-technology and microbiological methods that may increase the time of degradation that can be built into the life cycle. Futurists can contemplate CSIRO’s contention that there will come a time when bio polymers will be cheaper than petrochemical polymers.

A question time followed mainly focused on the issues of contamination of the waste stream and how to educate the public. That is a whole other subject that remained unanswered as the audience participated in thanking the guest speakers.

Considerations for later can be posed from the meeting:-

  • Oil is being used quicker than it is produced but petrochemical plastics can be recycled many times.
  • Do all materials now in use have a biopolymer alternative?
  • Water is needed to grow the raw materials for biopolymers and it is in its infancy. Will we have enough water?
  • Biodegradable materials by their nature vanish and have to be started anew.

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