17 May 2018 --- Israeli-based company Tipa asked, what if flexible packaging could behave just like organic material? Amid large-scale headlines around plastic, such as Nestle committing to 100 percent renewable packaging by 2025 and major UK players forming the UK Plastics Pact, this question has become even more relevant. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to Daphna Nissenbaum, Founder of Tipa, who deliver fully compostable flexible packaging for the food industry.
Although bio-materials have been around for more than 20 years, they have not entirely delivered on the promise of bringing the same packaging convenience as conventional plastic, as well as returning 100 percent back to nature, with no harmful impact.
Tipa's proprietary, patent-protected technology combines different complex blends of compostable polymers to achieve its wide range of packaging solutions. Commonly, 95 percent of flexible packaging options cannot be recycled, Tipa report. However, Tipa’s approach has brought a fully compostable alternative to the market, inlcuding laminates and labels. In this case, Nissenbaum explains, compostable was the most ecological route to take over recyclable.
Compostable vs. Recyclable
Essentially, compostable materials can take a lot longer to decompose and convert to new energy uses, for example as garden fertilizers, and they do not eliminate the need for virgin plastic material. They are also not usually composed from re-used materials but are made from virgin materials. This often holds up the belief that recycling may be the more sustainable option.
However, Nissenbaum differentiates between the need for recyclable and compostable materials on the marketplace: “The food industry is the largest consumer of packaging. Therefore we first have to make sure all food packaging are reusable, recyclable or compostable.”
“Recycling is the best alternative for rigid, single polymer-based applications. However, compostable should be the route for all non-recyclable solutions. This is the case with flexible packaging, which is the second largest packaging segment (after rigid). Other best fit applications for compostable packaging include small formats and packaging contaminated with food (as noted by the Ellen MacAruther foundation in their report; Catalyzing Action).”
Regarding the food industry, recycling materials, especially flexible packaging, for use in food packaging is limited due to high purity requirements. PET, on the other hand, has a process that has been deemed safe for use in the food and beverage industry. The same cannot be said to flexible packaging.
“Today too many packaging formats like flexible packaging are simply not recyclable and have no effective/ecological end-of-life solution. While governments worldwide have begun banning or heavily restricting the usage of plastic, some counties like France, Italy and India are already making it mandatory for the industry to use only compostable packaging for certain applications,” says Nissenbaum.
“Meanwhile 11 global companies like Unilever, Mars, and Walmart have already publicly declared they will have all their packaging 'reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025'. Therefore, compostable packaging is not just a chic trend but a true ecological solution to some of the direst problems of our plastic consumer society.”
Compostable challengesClick to Enlarge
R&D challenges were prominent in creating a compostable flexible plastic option. Working with compostable polymers offer a very limited set of properties, and therefore, manipulations were necessary to make them emulate the properties of plastic.
“Unlike conventional plastic polymers, which have quite robust and versatile properties and are very easy to process and fit for packaging applications, compostable polymers are quite delicate and limited in their 'inherent' properties such as transparency, flexibility, printability, ease of sealing, moisture barrier to protect the food on the shelf, etc.,” says Nissenbaum.
Regarding region growth, Nissenbaum states that Europe is by far the most advanced in adopting ecological packaging, including compostable, but Asia will soon follow. Asia is predicted to begin placing heavy regulations on plastic waste, and this will create “abundant opportunities for compostable packaging solutions in the region.”
Packaging is a certainty that will continue to be necessary for modern life, from protecting food to protecting merchandise. Concerning non-food applications, Nissenbaum has strong views on which sectors require attention: “As for non-food applications we mainly believe e-commerce packaging need to be also addressed as this segment is growing incredibly fast while much of the packaging used for e-commerce is non-recyclable. For example, most e-commerce packaging will include plastic bags and sometimes also a plastic envelope. These do not get recycled today and create a tremendous waste problem. For us, the answer is compostable packaging to replace these non-recyclable plastic bags.”
TiClick to Enlargepa is providing a strong response to the problems of “our plastic consumer society,” putting on the market a fully compostable material that can match the packaging functionality requirements of food, namely: moisture barriers, flexibility and ease of resealing. Innova Market Insights data reflects the growing awareness around biodegradable/compostable packaging in new F&B launches, noting an increase of CAGR of +41 percent in the last five years.
“As long as we live in a consumer society, packaging will be absolutely essential. We will need though to develop packaging materials/formats and concepts in order to assure packaging have no negative effect on the environment,” Nissenbaum concludes.
By Laxmi Haigh
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