The Future of Bioplastics (May 2014)

Floreon Transforming Packaging created the game changing additive for bioplastics over 4 years ago through the desire for a cleaner and safer bioplastic.

The additive improves the performance of PLA in different areas including higher strength and lower process temperatures. The additive has been developed through an ‘outstanding rated’ Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Sheffield.

Floreon have seen the change in bioplastics and their application and how they are slowly making their way to market and are hoping to change the way we look at plastic and its uses. But what exactly does the future hold for Bioplastics?

The Volume

Bioplastics, plastics derived from plants instead of the most commonly used fossil oil and gas, currently make up around 0.2% of the approximate 350 million metric tons of plastics that are consumed all around the world in one year. It has been predicted, by industry analysts, that this small percentage could jump up by at least 30% each year over the next decade. This is mainly due to the demand for eco-friendly packaging.

The Uses

Bioplastics are currently used most in packaging, however it has the potential to be used in any application that controversial plastics are used. There is very little difference when comparing the performance of bioplastics against oil based plastics, and in some circumstances bioplastics have better functional properties. For example, process temperature is significantly lower and the shelf life is higher.

Large international companies are making the move to start using bioplastics as their packaging. For example Coca-cola have created their Plantbottle program, where they make plastic bottles that are 30% plant based. Toyota are also manufacturing elements of interior trim using bioplastics and AT&T have created mobile phone and accessories.

The potential number of applications for plant based plastics is so vast, it is hard to say what it can and cannot be used for. Floreon, in conjunction with the Highly regarded Business School of The University of Hull, is currently conducting some research into the market opportunities for the innovative bioplastic.

The barriers

Although bioplastics have many benefits over using oil based plastics, they still tend to be more expensive. The traditional plastics industry has been processing the oil based plastics for many years now, and have worked out a very efficient system and production chain at a very large scale,

Keeping this in mind, it may present a challenge to change the minds of certain companies, to spend more money, change their processes all for the sake of a “greener” plastic.

There are also a lot of options out there that suggest that the manufacturing of bioplastics causes issues and may impact the environment, Also there are a lot of question regarding the biodegradability of the plastics, which may be hard to shake off and convince major manufactures to make the swap.

However, recent events have shown how the shift away from oil based plastics is fast approaching and is here to stay. For example the water bottle ban in San Francisco and the Chicago announcement of the plastic bag ban are big steps towards the use of bioplastics.

Big name brands are also paving the way for the move across to using bioplastics as a replacement to standard oil-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Ford, Heinz, Nestle, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Unilever have joined the World Wildlife Fund to launch the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA).

Nestle is already using bioplastics, such as PLA (in Purina One pet food packaging), bio-PE (in beverage caps) and bio-PET (in Vittel bottled water). At the Ecochem conference, Nestle’s packaging environmental sustainability expert, Lars Lundquist, noted the difficulty of using compostable/biodegradable plastics in some of its packaging requirements, and found more favor in bio-based materials, such as bio-PE and bio-PET, especially in food and beverage products.

One thing is for sure, with oil having a finite future, big and I mean BIG brands demanding sustainability, recyclability and/or composting, things will gather pace. The future for Bioplastics is very bright and Floreon is at the forefront of changing people’s perceptions of what is achievable.

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