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Sustainability in Plastics—Embracing New Approaches

By: Chris Pandis
Posted: August 31, 2011

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Nevertheless, PLA and related biopolymers have the advantage of compostability and biodegradability when they are properly handled. That last phrase is key, however. Most landfills actually prevent degradation and so, unless these biopolymers are processed in an industrial composting plant, like some in Europe, they are actually less attractive to companies like Procter & Gamble or Unilever seeking to reduce or eliminate waste sent to landfills. In addition, although there have been significant advances in the formulation of biopolymers, and additives are available to help build melt strength for easier processing, these materials remain expensive, difficult to handle and challenging to color.

Conventional synthetic colorants are readily available, and many have been formulated for use in biopolymers, but while the matrix resin may be compostable or biodegradable, the colorants and additives usually are not. All-natural alternatives are available but limited in number, expensive and not very process- or light-stable. Fortunately, a third choice has recently become available as lines of compostable color and additive masterbatches. While they incorporate conventional (non-natural) additives and pigments in a biopolymer carrier resin, the types and amounts are strictly limited. Testing of the ingredients of Clariant’s offering, for example (completed in the independent laboratories of OWS— NV a global independent provider of inspection, monitoring, analysis, testing and certification services based in Belgium), determined that the materials can comply with EN 13432:2000—the widely recognized standard for heavy-metal content and plant toxicity.

And look for the “OK compost” certification issued by AIB Vinçotte International (Belgium). Any product featuring the “OK compost” logo can be assumed to comply with the requirements of the EU Packaging Directive (94/62/EEC), which seeks to limit packaging waste.

So now beauty brand owners have new options in plastics and new opportunities: working with suppliers to go all the way to the most natural solutions based on raw materials directly derived from nature; choosing bioidentical materials made from renewable resources but otherwise very similar in character to oil-based polymers; or using conventional resins to take advantage of increased levels of recycling. And whatever route chosen, cuts can be made in material use, package weight and energy use through advanced foaming technology.

Consumer goods companies are well on the way toward sustainability. Now the question becomes just how green they want to be or, more accurately, how they want to be green. Today, plastics technology gives them more options than ever.