Fossil-based materials in high performance
Plastic & flexible packaging sector used more than 2.1 tons of raw materials in France in 2015. 97% of all plastic packaging are made from 5 families of polymers : polyethylene (PE), polyethylene (PET), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS/EPS) and vinyl polychrorure (PVC).
Reducing Fossil-based plastics’ environmental impact starts by improving production processes and adding new technical properties that will enable the packaging manufacturer to consume less material. PlasticsEurope, which represents plastics producers, publishes materials’ environmental footprints on its website:www.plasticseurope.org
The combination of plastics with other materials like aluminium or paper for some flexible packaging products can help to reduce the packaging’s overall environmental footprint.
Recycled materials from spent packaging can be used to make new products and reduce the use of fossil resources. They have been used in industrial & commercial packaging of non-food products for several years. Recycled materials have also been increasingly incorporated into household packaging since 2009 and European regulations allow their use in contact with food under certain conditions.
As of 2014, 47% of Elipso’s members used recycled materials in their packaging. Recycled PET for food use, recycled HDPE and recycled LDPE are the most commonly used recycled materials in packaging.
Recycled plastics for food use
Whereas the regulatory context used to be different from one European Union country to another, regulation 282/2008/EC of March 27th, 2008 changed the situation.
This regulation was published following the “framework regulation” [1935/2004/EC] and the “GMP regulation” on good manufacturing practices [2003/2006/EC]. It defines harmonised rules for the authorisation of recycling processes for plastics intended for food use.
These must also comply with the requirements of the “plastics directive” [2002/72/EC and its amendments], which are fundamental prerequisites in all cases.
To allow for the gradual setup of these new provisions, the European Food Safety Association ( EFSA) issued guidelines specifying the contents of authorisation applications for the industrial processes under consideration.
An “initial authorisation” phase allows existing processes to be included in the new framework.
NB: authorised processes must be managed under quality assurance and audited.
Biosourced plastics are used to make all kinds of packaging, e.g. bottles, films, bags and trays. In 2014, 20% of Elipso members had at least one packaging line using biosourced plastics.
These renewable, plant-based materials offer packaging manufacturers an additional supply source. They currently represent less than 0.5% of world plastic production but the various available studies show that they will grow sharply in the coming years.
Biosourced PET and PE have identical technical characteristics to their fossil equivalents. They are made from sugar cane waste and are recyclable when blended with other packaging types.
Starch-based, PLA and other innovative biosourced plastics deliver new features in packaging (touch, compostability, etc.) and have the advantage of being produced locally.
Packaging’s environmental impact can only be known through a Life Cycle Assessment. It is difficult to draw general conclusions on the benefits delivered by biosourced plastics. Nevertheless, most available studies show a lower carbon footprint for biosourced plastics.
Plastics are not the only chemical components that can be biosourced in packaging. Some packaging types already use biosourced glues, binders or inks.