Finnishing touches to greener plastics?

FEW people in the packaging industry would argue that a transition to a greener economy is undesirable but new eco-friendly innovations must still deliver quality if they are to be a success.
It’s a fine balancing act that many have failed to master however researchers in Finland say they have unearthed a technique that not only reduces our dependence on oil but produces plastic packaging that out-performs more traditional materials.
Research Professor Ali Harlin, from VTT Technical Research Centre, is convinced the new generation of bio-based material has the potential to hasten the industry’s move towards a bio-based economy that would make a major impact on reducing its carbon footprint.
To illustrate the point he highlights statistics that show the volume of oil used every year in the production of plastics equates to approximately 5% of the world’s total oil consumption.
Approximately 40% of all plastics are used in packaging, which puts special pressure on the packaging industry to reduce its dependence on oil.
In comparison, bio-based plastic accounts for approximately 1% of global plastic production.
VTT says its new technique enables the production of the PGA monomer glycolic acid from bio-based materials more efficiently than before.
It argues that by adding PGA, which has notable barrier properties, into the structure of traditional plastic packaging significantly improves its quality. In addition to strength and heat resistance, plastic packaging also needs to be airtight, vapour-proof and grease-resistant.
Bio-based PGA plastic is between 20 and 30% stronger than PLA – the most popular biodegradable plastic on the market – and able to withstand temperatures 20 degrees Celsius higher. It also breaks down more quickly than PLA.
“Bio-based plastics are a tangible step closer to a bio-based economy,” says Prof. Harlin. “This new generation of plastic packaging not only reduces our dependence on oil but also offers superior quality compared to traditional plastic packaging.”