Compostable and biodegradable films face up to challenges

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Price differentials will be a key factor influencing the use of compostable and biodegradable films in mainstream food
Price differentials will be a key factor influencing the use of compostable and biodegradable films in mainstream food

Related tags: Recycling, Biodegradation

The future of compostable and biodegradable films in mainstream food is partly dependent on price differentials with oil-derived alternatives, partly on consumer education and end-of-life infrastructure, and partly on the longer-term acceptability of non-recyclable (and non-compostable) barrier laminates.

This is the view of flexible packaging converter Parkside, which spent four years developing and testing its Park-2-Nature range of paper and film barrier laminates designed for home and industrial composting.

New product development director Steve McCormick admitted to finding it a struggle to get compostable films into the mainstream, largely because of what he described as “exorbitant​” prices for the component films.

The situation is not helped, he said, by the lack of explicit support for biodegradables from the European Commission.

“The EU has said it will examine bioplastics and their potential for packaging,”​ said McCormick, adding that no timings have been given for this. “Ideally, for Parkside, compostable materials would be considered a viable alternative to recyclables, and supported as such.”

Constituting a problem

He did not see the co-existence of recyclable and compostable films as necessarily constituting a problem. “They can, in my opinion, run hand-in-hand, but it needs support and education so that consumers know what to do with the different waste streams.”

The two- and three-ply laminates developed by the converter were accredited by Belgian laboratory OWS as being home-compostable at ambient temperatures.

Sealant layers

The films combine Innovia's cellulose-based Natureflex with sealant layers from Italian bioplastics producer Novamont.

As McCormick pointed out, laminates of any kind are difficult to recycle. Parkside has been working with universities on monolayer materials with improved barrier properties. But to follow through one hypothesis, if recycling of monolayer structures did become the norm, this could allow a parallel compostable stream to corner the market in barrier laminates.

Parkside has also been working on combining its compostable laminates with laser technology, which it uses to apply easy-open and reclose tab systems to both tray lidding and bags.

The laminate range is said to provide sufficient oxygen and moisture barrier to extend shelf-life on a range of products such as coffee, dried goods and confectionery.

Related topics: Chilled foods, Packaging materials

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