Developments and Trends in Bioplastics for Flexible, Barrier and Pouch Packaging

Developments and Trends in Bioplastics for Flexible, Barrier and Pouch Packaging

Terence Cooper
ARGO Group International

Basic definitions, classifications and rationale for bioplastics are presented, and current status and future trends in biobased (renewable) and biodegradable polymers, renewable carbon sourcing and end-of-life processes relevant to flexible, barrier and pouch packaging are reviewed. Drivers promoting their ongoing development and adoption are discussed together with concepts of sustainability, platform chemicals and specifications and certifications for biobased and biodegradable materials. Examples are described of developmental and commercial partially- and wholly-biobased and biodegradable polymers suitable for flexible packaging. These include: (a) non-biodegradable renewably-sourced “drop-in” conventional plastics (e.g. PE and PET) and “new-molecule” plastics (e.g. polyalkylfuranoates and polyamides), where end-of-life processes require mechanical or chemical recycling or energy recovery; (b) biodegradable, compostable and anaerobically digestible plastics (e.g. PLA, polyhydroxyalkanoates, and starch blends); and (c) novel biodegradable and water-soluble barrier layers which do not interfere with recycling (e.g. protein- and polysaccharide-based polymers, PVOH copolymers, cellulosics and polyglycolic acid). The rapidly expanding development of biological-, catalytic-, and thermal-based routes to monomers and polymers from renewable feedstocks, including food and non-food crops, agricultural and other wastes, lignocellulosic, cellulosic and algal biomass, bio-methane and carbon dioxide, is also surveyed. Bioplastics market projections are presented together with economic and “green” issues, consumer and environmental concerns, and the challenges of the low H/C ratio of biomass and low petrochemical prices.