USABLE PACKAGING

Unlocking the potential of Sustainable BiodegradabLe Packaging

Summary

Bioplastics currently hold only a two percent market share in the EU; the remainder is fossil based. In addition, many bioplastics are only partially biodegradable and can’t solve end-of-life issues. They also compete with feedstocks for the food and feed sectors, pushing up costs. The amount of non-biodegradable bio-based plastics on the market is expected to grow as replacements for fossil-based counterparts continue to grow.

This makes it important to increase the level of biodegradable bioplastics, ideally using different materials. However, many bioplastics lack adequate functional properties for packaging requirements. In addition, the complexity of multilayer packaging limits the bio-degradability and compostability of the whole packaging item.

To address this, the USABLE PACKAGING project will establish a new value chain for bioplastics. This will be based on low-cost and widely-available feedstock, such as by-products and sidestreams from the food processing industry. It will convert the feedstock into poly-hydroxy-alkanoates (PHA), which can be tuned to specific packaging needs and specifications. This will realise packaging items suitable for replacing fossil-based materials in high-performance packaging while retaining biodegradable characteristics.

Description

Objectives: 

As well as its overall objective of developing commercially-viable alternatives to petrochemical-based packaging materials, the USABLE PACKAGING project will:

  • Develop environmentally sustainable bio-based packaging suitable for organic recycling. This can be through the existing bio-waste collection network or through bio-recycling at the PHA production facility, where it will become part of the feedstock. It is also suitable for home composting.
  • Deliver packaging materials capable of biodegradability in different environments, including marine settings.
  • Improve circularity by eco-design over existing fossil-based and bio-based plastics over the full range of applications.
  • Ensure the end-of-life phase is wholly sustainable by creating a fully-circular, vertically-integrated supply chain.
  • Create genuinely new and innovative design of packaging and production.
Expected impacts: 

The USABLE PACKAGING project seeks to deliver a number of specific impacts. It will:

  • Create a new cross-sectoral interconnection between the food processing and bioplastics industries. Currently, the bio-plastics industry supplies the food industry with packaging materials; USABLE PACKAGING will create a loop between the two industries, where waste from the food processing industry feedstock supplies the bio-plastics industry.
  • Develop a completely new value chain in terms of feedstock, process and products portfolio with grades designed for specific packaging applications. This would include complex solutions not currently feasible with existing bio-based and biodegradable plastics.
  • Develop a portfolio of eight new bio-based packaging product applications, ranging from liquid sachets for pharmaceutical products to transparent, heavy-duty design packaging. For each, the recyclability end of life destination will be embedded in the product design, improving sustainability.
  • Validate and optimise a new process for electrospinning PHA with controlled biomass content as part of a vertically-integrated production process. This will allow production of electrospun adhesives, which will allow complex multilayer packaging structures with bio-based biodegradable plastics.
  • Provide a basis for making biopolymers competitive with existing petrochemical-based plastics. They will offer a combination of lower raw material costs and offsetting end-of-life costs through conversion to biogas or biodegradable polymers.
  • Offer significant savings in the end-of-life phase of packaging. Integrating USABLE PACKAGING products in the bio-waste value chain will avoid the costs associated with the plastics value chain – a saving of around 50 percent.