Degradability vs PCR - Best Way to be Sustainable?

Volume 3, Issue 3

In This Issue:

  • Picking the right green claims
  • Recycling/Recycled Content

    PET and HDPE bottles contain 100% recycled content

    Clear polyethylene terephthalate and black high-density polyethylene containers with 100% post-consumer-recycled content hold liquid soaps, gels and lotions from LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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Sustainable Efforts >

Are degradable additives for PET really ‘greener’?

Widespread adoption of containers consisting of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with degradable additives may pose more risks than benefits, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Sonoma, CA, the trade organization for the PET packaging industry.

On the other hand, advocates believe degradable PET can offer a major environmental benefit because so many PET containers, nearly 4.3 billion pounds in 2007, end up in landfills or as litter or ocean pollution.

NAPCOR is concerned degradable PET might negatively impact recyclate quality and limit applications of recycled PET (RPET), reduce its value and increase costs for container collection and reprocessing. Officials say more data is needed to substantiate or document:

Claims of degradability of PET resin products containing degradable additives
The effect of degradable additives on the quality of the PET recycling stream
The impacts of degradable additives on products made from RPET
The true impact on the service life of these products

“Without the testing and data necessary to understand the potential impacts of degradable additives in PET, it’s not an overstatement to say that they could potentially put the whole PET recycling system at risk,” warns NAPCOR Executive Director Dennis Sabourin. “We don’t yet understand the impacts that these additives could have on the quality of the PET recycling stream, let alone the impacts on the safety and functionality over time of next-use PET products like recycled-content PET packaging, carpeting or strapping.”

Aside from the potential impacts on recycling, Sabourin questions the value of degradability. He says, “Even if a package were to disappear or fragment…it would not make the package sustainable, nor does it provide any positive impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or resource conservation. Degrading plastic provides no useful nutrients to the soil, and the impacts to soil and sea of reducing the plastic to molecules using degradable additives is unknown.”

Meanwhile, suppliers of degradable PET containers are working to substantiate claims (see stories about ENSO Bottles and plant-based bottles).

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Degradable PET bottles meet some ASTM recycling and compostability standards

At least one family of degradable PET containers have received third-party confirmation of their recyclability. Certification by an independent lab confirms ENSO Bottles™ with EcoPure™ from ENSO Bottles LLC, Phoenix, AZ, meet requirements of ASTM D1003 (haze and light transmission), ASTM D4603 (intrinsic viscosity), ASTM F2013 (residual acetaldehyde) and ASTM D5511 (biodegradable in anaerobic environments like those found in landfills). The lab also checked fluorescence (for sorting empty containers) as well as for the presence of flaws like black specks and gels.

In addition, work with independent recyclers confirms ENSO degradable PET bottles have no adverse effects on the recycling stream.

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Recycling/Recycled Content >

PET and HDPE bottles contain 100% recycled content

Clear polyethylene terephthalate and black high-density polyethylene containers with 100% post-consumer-recycled content hold liquid soaps, gels and lotions from LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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Containers supplied by TricorBraun, St. Louis, MO, include various sizes and styles including Boston Rounds. “This goes to the heart of Lush’s philosophy of ethical sourcing,” reports Jadina Irving, TricorBraun packaging consultant. “We look for the simplest packaging to do the job and use post-consumer recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials whenever possible,” she adds.

To further reduce environmental impact, more than 70% of Lush’s product line is sold in solid form, reducing the cost and weight of liquid ingredients and minimizing use of heavier rigid packaging.

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RPET receives clearance for food contact

Phoenix Technologies (PTI), Bowling Green, OH, has received a letter of “no objection” from the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada, Ottawa, ON, for the process used to produce LNO™c food-grade, recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) resin. The letter of no objection from the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pertains to containers with up to 50% RPET content.

“We have been working with Canadian manufacturers on commercializing various food and beverage packaging applications,” says Lori Carson, sales and marketing manager for Phoenix Technologies. So, she adds, “we are very pleased to now have a letter of no objection from Health Canada to support our technology.”

The LNO™c process relies on Phoenix’s patented “extremely small particle size” technology. The tiny particle size enables much more efficient decontamination compared to other processes, resulting in faster output and significant energy savings. (The “c” in the brand name refers to the “compacted” resin that is the end result.)

LNO™c technology produces RPET with superior color and yield. In addition, lower acetaldehyde levels positively impact taste properties, while consistently higher intrinsic viscosity (IV), or molecular weight, more closely matches the IV found in virgin resins and ensures performance. “Color, yield and taste attributes have traditionally been stumbling blocks in producing viable RPET—particularly with very sensitive liquids, such as water,” explains Carson.

Although there have been successful trials of up to 100% LNO™c RPET, most food-grade applications are expected to run between 25% and 50%. The ratio of RPET to virgin resin will depend on individual product and processing parameters as well as supply and economic impact.

In addition to producing RPET resin for sale to blow/injection molding and thermoforming operations, PTI also offers the technology via license, partnership or turnkey system installation. “Our philosophy is that RPET supply is better suited to multiple, smaller, processing operations across North America, versus one or two large-capacity plants. We believe in a local ‘consume, collect, convert’ approach. By locating RPET production in closer proximity to resin users, you improve supply times and reduce the carbon footprint,” explains Carson.

Phoenix’s LNO™c RPET is currently being trialed for a variety of containers in both the United States and Canada. Applications include water, beverage and deli containers and drinking cups.

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Source Reduction >

Wineries adopt lighter containers

Wine makers are adopting lighter glass bottles or converting to polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles to reduce their carbon footprint.

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Wineries that prefer traditional glass bottles can source lighter containers from the New ECO Series™ from TricorBraun’s Caliber WinePak, St. Louis, MO. The line, manufactured by Saint-Gobain Containers in either Seattle, WA, or Madera, CA, include two full push-up, two mid push-up and two flat-bottom designs. The lighter containers not only cost less to ship than traditional glass wine bottles, but also consist of a higher percentage of cullet (recycled glass). With at least 66% cullet, substantially less energy is needed to produce the containers. In addition, the ECO Series™ bottles run without problems on the fastest filling lines, according to tests with major bottlers in conjunction with American Glass Research, a division of Agr International, Inc., Butler, PA.

We’re also seeing more PET bottles for wine. Boisset Family Estates, Burgundy, France, has added a 1-liter size to the lighter 750-milliliter (ml) PET bottles used for several of its U.S. offerings. Its new Fog Mountain Merlot in a 1-liter (L) PET container reportedly ranks as the first California wine in the larger, lightweight bottle featuring shelf-life protecting MonOxbar® oxygen-scavenging technology from Constar International Inc., Philadelphia, PA, which prevents oxygen permeation and protects the delicate flavor, aroma and color of the wine.

Boisset’s decision to introduce Fog Mountain Merlot in a 1L rather than a 750ml PET bottle is based on consumer feedback. Because PET is significantly thinner than glass, 750ml PET bottles are smaller than their glass counterparts, creating the perception of containing less wine. With dimensions similar to a traditional 750ml, the 1L PET bottle for Fog Mountain Merlot adds value with 33% more wine, roughly three more servings, for a retail price of $12. Some comparisons show that PET bottles require less energy to produce, ship and recycle, and thus, have a smaller carbon footprint than comparable glass containers.

The bottles, designed in the classic claret shape, are blowmolded by Field Manufacturing Corp., Torrance, CA, from preforms supplied by Constar. The lightweight bottle, finished with a convenient screw closure, displays well on the shelf, plus is portable and shatter-resistant, making it an attractive option for entertaining as well as for the hotel and restaurant trade.

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Hot-filled PET bottle loses weight

A hot-fillable, stock, 20-ounce G-Lite bottle from Graham Packaging, York, PA, has been adopted by TalkingRain Beverage Co., Preston, WA, for the vitamin-enhanced flavored waters it produces for a major customer.

Although consumers probably won’t notice a difference, the lighter, recyclable bottle represents a source reduction that cuts costs nearly 5% and lightens each truckload by 250 pounds. Graham’s HOB (Highly Oriented Base) technology increases crystallinity at the molecular level to reduce the amount of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) needed in the base without sacrificing hot-fill performance. The bottle also represents an energy savings in both production and transport for a smaller carbon footprint than other hot-filled PET containers. “We’re looking at every avenue we can to cut down on the packaging we use,” explains Doug MacLean, chief executive officer of TalkingRain.

Graham plans to roll out the G-Lite design in other sizes and shapes.

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Foamed PET lightweights containers

A lightweight foamed polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle/jar blowmolding process has been developed by Plastic Technologies, Inc. (PTI), Holland, Ohio. Marketed under the oPTISM (pronounced “opti”) brand name, the process is based on MuCell® technology licensed from Trexel, Inc., Woburn, MA.

The foamed material gives food and beverage brand owners a broader range of PET container aesthetics and performance capabilities. Containers can be made from slightly translucent to opaque, exhibit a unique surface feel and display details like embossed logos more prominently. In addition, the surface’s tactile “traction” enhances grippability. Since the foam process adds stiffness, lightweighting of up to 5% is feasible without significant loss of performance.

The technology can produce bottles with a significant light barrier—up to 95% reduction in transmitted light, and different colors and effects are possible. For example, the process can produce white or silvery bottles without additives that can limit recycling. “Instead of being a contaminant to the clear recycling stream, white foamed bottles will mold into a transparent bottle after remelting and subsequent processing,” explains Frank Semersky, vice president, PTI. Blue and green hues also are a possibility since those color streams currently exist in PET recycling. Although technically feasible, pastel colors such as amber, yellow or pink, may pose a recycling issue since these containers would contaminate the clear, blue or green PET streams.

The MuCell® microcellular foam injection molding technology relies on nitrogen injection and cavity pressure to create tiny bubbles in preforms. Blowmolding occurs on conventional equipment. “Initial evidence is that at higher gas levels, foam containers can withstand hot filling without excessive shrinkage,” says Semersky, adding, “We also can run foam bottles with a variety of barrier additives to meet shelf life concerns.”

The foam bottle technology is applicable to other resins such as polylactic acid and polyethylene naphthalate. Potential applications include the food, beverage, personal-care and household chemical markets.

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Olive oil switches from glass to plastic

The conversion to a lightweight, square polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle from glass for olive oil from Pompeian, Inc., Baltimore, MD, has earned a first place package design award from the New Jersey Ad Club, North Arlington, NJ. Weighing 90% less than its glass bottle, the custom PET container conserves fuel, energy and greenhouse gases throughout its lifecycle and shrinks the product’s carbon footprint 50% to 60%. 

The product of months of research to create a container with stronger shelf appeal and functional benefits, the multifaceted top catches light and stands out on the shelf, while an embossed olive tree and the phrase “Since 1906” attests to the brand’s long history. Sure-grip sides ease handling, lifting and pouring. Once the bottle was selected, new labels were designed featuring a stronger logo, gold metallic bands, distinctive color-coding and illustrations of Mediterranean landscapes. 

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Renewable Materials >

Coca-Cola launches PET bottle with plant-based content

The PlantBottle introduced by The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA, consists of a 30/70 blend of plant- and petroleum-based feedstock. The PlantBottle is currently made through a process that turns sugar cane and molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, into a key component for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle resin. Coca-Cola also is exploring the use of other plant materials for future generations of the PlantBottle.

Manufacturing the PlantBottle is more environmentally efficient as well. A life-cycle analysis conducted by Imperial College of London indicates carbon emissions up to 25% lower than 100% petroleum-based PET. In addition, unlike other plant-based plastics, the PlantBottle can be processed through existing manufacturing and recycling facilities. So, the material in the PlantBottle can be used and recycled again and again with no ill effect on the PET waste stream.

“The PlantBottle represents the next step in evolving our system toward the bottle of the future,” says Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging for Coca-Cola. “This innovation…moves us closer to our vision of zero waste with a material that lessens our carbon footprint and is also recyclable.”

Coca-Cola North America will pilot the PlantBottle in the later half of 2009 with Dasani water and sparkling brands and in 2010 with vitaminwater. The bottles will be identified through on-pack messages and point-of-sale displays. Web-based communications will highlight the bottles’ environmental benefits.

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BPI certifies Mirel bioplastic

The Biodegradable Products Institute, New York, NY, has certified the compostability of Mirel biopolymers from Telles, Lowell, MA. The Mirel base resins produced by Telles, the joint venture between Metabolix, Cambridge, MA, and Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, IL, are compounded into grades for injection molding, film, sheet, and thermoforming applications and meet the ASTM D6400 standard established by ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA.

“Materials certification is an important process for the bioplastic industry to embrace,” says Bob Findlen, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Telles. “Product manufacturers, brand owners, and their customers need to have confidence that the biodegradability and compostability claims of materials suppliers are substantiated by scientific data and third-party validation.”

Mirel resins also hold OK Compost, and OK Compost HOME certifications for industrial and home composting, respectively, from Vincotte, Vilvoorde, Belgium.

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Packaging producer researches CO2-based plastic

Superfos, Taastrup, Denmark, a producer of rigid packaging, is helping develop plastics based on carbon dioxide (CO2). The goal of the €3 million project, organized by Norner Innovation AS, Stathelle, Norway, is to replace some virgin resin with CO2 to improve the material’s environmental footprint. “Up to 40% of the polymer in plastic production might be CO2,” predicts Morten Lundquist, business area manager at Norner Innovation. Rather than viewing CO2 as a problem, the project looks at the greenhouse gas as a low-energy raw material that offers the potential for reducing resin consumption and developing materials with properties that differ from those of commodity plastics.

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About the author

Hallie Forcinio has covered packaging-related environmental topics for more than 20 years, first as an editor on Food & Drug Packaging magazine (now Food & Beverage Packaging) and more recently as a freelance packaging journalist. “My interest in the environment dates back to a high school government class,” she notes. “I was collecting glass, newspapers and aluminum cans for recycling long before my community had a curbside recycling program.”

In addition, to preparing the TricorBraun Sustainability Times, she contributes articles to numerous trade publications including Packaging Machinery Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology, Managing Automation and Ben Miyares’ Packaging Management Update, the weekly e-newsletter that posts each Monday on Packexpo.com.

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