Is bio-based materials the right alternative to make your packaging more sustainable?

Ahead of his hugely popular workshop on 'Bio-based packaging' we spoke to Stephan Roest, Market Development Manager from Corbion to gain a preview of his workshop. Stephan also offered exclusive insights on industry stumbling blocks and significant changes coming up within packaging sustainability.

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You are going to be leading the morning workshop on Bio-based packaging, what do you see as the potential challenges and opportunities of moving towards bio-based?

The bio-based industry is currently scaling-up its processes to industrial scale, or developing new process to replace petrochemicals, that takes time and requires investments. In the process of scaling-up, the availability of material will still be limited and the prices still higher. Key in scaling up is the adoption of these new materials throughout the full value chain including recycling and waste management companies, and to familiarize each party in the value chain with the material and the new properties it can bring. Some bioplastics are readily available, like PLA for which the Total Corbion PLA JV is due to open its 75kton plant in Thailand later this year. PLA can be implemented in all kinds of packaging and has the advantage of being both recyclable and compostable. Compostable is a property relevant for food packaging to save valuable nutrients from for instance vegetables or coffee and get them into the compost.

Other bio-based materials are being scaled-up and currently available in sample quantities for the value chains to develop new packaging solutions with it. An example is PEF as a substitute to PET. PEF can be used in all packaging applications for which PET is used, but outperforms on barrier and thermal properties, opening up new packaging solutions, and simplifying complex barrier structures. The sample quantities available give brand-owners and packaging producers the opportunity to already test the material for these opportunities, and be the first to introduce it and claim their share of the industrial scale volumes once available.


What do you see as the most significant changes coming up in packaging sustainability in the next 12-24 months?

In the coming two years the real transition needs to be made to reach the 2020 sustainability targets several companies set a few years ago. Sustainable packaging is both about managing the end-of-life to avoid (plastic) pollution, as well meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. To achieve this, the awareness on the urgency to act now will really need to increase. The temperature increase of 2 degrees doesn't seem a lot, but compare it to a fever that will not go away, leaving devastating damage to our earth. A key step for plastics to reach both these goals is to decouple from fossil feedstock as virgin raw materials, and only use renewable carbon like bio-based or from recycled plastics. The advantage of bio-based is that it also has sucked up CO2 during the growth-phase of the plant, by that reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.


What are you seeing as the biggest stumbling blocks in industry?

Given the number of commitments for 2020, or 2025 / 2030, there will be a tremendous demand for such renewable carbon the coming years, a stumbling block might be the bottleneck of supply. To overcome this you already see brand-owners engaging with upstream producers of bio-based (or recycled) material to secure the limited supply of such sustainable raw materials for their future packaging and products.

This higher demand will also speed-up development of bio-based materials, as well the development of new technologies for recycling of current and new packaging materials.


Why do you feel it’s important for people to attend the workshop on bio-based packaging?

As it is the first time bio-based packaging is on the agenda of the Sustainability in Packaging Europe conference, the workshop aims to inform the attendees about the basics of bio-based, as well as the current trends and developments, including in-depth discussions on some bio-based packaging case studies. It will give the attendees the opportunity to get questions answered on what bio-based really is, what the benefits are, how it can be incorporated in their packaging portfolio or how it contributes to packaging sustainability.