“Partnerships essential for change”

Compostable packaging is conquering the market

From starch to packaging materials for smartphones. Natural raw materials are being increasingly used as a basis for packaging solutions. The Italian company Novamont and the Dutch company Paperfoam underline the importance of cooperation.

Every lover of coffee in Italy knows Lavazza. This coffee roaster from Turin is the market leader in that country and is famous mainly for its espressos. Its capsules for espresso machines are now 100% compostable. That is the outcome of more than five years of collaboration and research with the Italian company Novamont. Catia Bastioli, CEO of this Italian producer of bioplastics, takes pride in the partnership between Novamont and Lavazza. “We jointly developed an innovative technology and a high-quality solution for their capsules. These are not just biodegradable but also meet all the stringent requirements set by Lavazza. The capsules are longer-lasting, the quality of the coffee is excellent and the capsules comply with, and even go beyond, all food safety laws and regulations.”

A pioneer

Novamont started life as a research centre of a large multinational enterprise. In 1996, the company set out on its own. “We are a true pioneer in the field of bioplastics,” says Bastioli. “We were already working in this field when no one else believed in it yet. Right from the start, our goal was never to maximise our output of biomaterials (for packaging as well as many other applications) but to strive for a low impact economy. To help turn this kind of economy, with minimised waste flows and pollution, into a reality, we examined in which chains we could make the greatest difference with our bioplastics products: applications with little probability of recycling, when recycling happens to be too expensive, or when plastics have a high probability of contaminating the natural environment or organic waste. In these applications biodegradable polymers really make the difference and has been contributing over the years to the establishment of an effective organic waste management system in Italy, with a high diversion of biowaste from landfill - from 2006 to the present time, from 2.6 to 5.7 million tons is collected.”

New economic models

Nowadays, an increasing amount of plastic packaging material in Italy is biodegradable. The decision taken in 2010 by the Italian retail sector to replace all plastic bags with compostable bags was a key step. Bastioli: “This shows that partnerships with government organisations, businesses and academic institutions are essential for change. This creates new economic models that actively contribute to a ‘bio-based economy’. A company such as Lavazza took a risk by thinking beyond the existing business model. Naturally, it would have been cheaper for them to stick to their traditional production methods. You need partners such as these, who buy into ideas on the bio-economy.”

Injection-moulded starch

The Dutch company Paperfoam has likewise taken up the challenge of convincing major brands to opt for compostable packaging solutions. Since 2000, Paperfoam has been marketing packaging materials made from injection-moulded starch. CEO Mark Geerts: “Our packaging materials are used mainly in consumer electronics, medical equipment and cosmetics and, increasingly, food. We are seeing a sharp increase in demand for our product. That is partly due to the growth of internet shopping, for which shipping in protective packaging is a key requirement. Our product also offers extensive possibilities in the field of design. And its CO2 emissions are up to 90% lower than for comparable packaging made from plastic or cardboard. But sometimes it is still not easy to persuade companies to switch to our products. New packaging materials usually diverge slightly from their internal rules. And we also have to compete with large, established parties that produce packaging materials from plastic or cardboard. They often have large networks and are sometimes also marginally cheaper.”

Printers and egg cartons

Paperfoam nonetheless expects demand for biodegradable packaging materials to continue to grow. “We are therefore continuing to expand our production facilities, to capitalise on those opportunities for growth. We are also working on packaging that is suitable for heavier products, and we are getting better at this all the time. Packaging a printer is not yet possible, but electronic devices such smartphones are no problem at all. Again, cooperation with partners is the key to speeding up progress in this area. For instance, we are examining together with Rondeel how research and automation can allow us to produce their egg cartons even more affordably.”

Agri meets Chemicals

Both Novamont and Paperfoam, a Rabobank customer, were present at the annual Agri meets Chemicals conference, which is jointly organised by Rabobank, in November 2016. This conference establishes bridges between the future of the agricultural sector and applications of the chemicals sector. Rabobank has customers in agriculture and the chemicals industry and takes part in initiatives concerning the circular economy. Rabobank is also a partner in the SHIFT investment fund, which focuses on innovative businesses that promote sustainability and health through agriculture, food and bio-based technologies (‘Sustainability and Health Impact through Food & Agri Transitions”).

Building bridges

Bastioli: “Creating a changed mindset is crucial, that is why Agri meets Chemicals is so important. The bio-based economy is ready for the next step, and there is no time to lose. Pioneers and early adaptors are already moving forward, the challenge is to get government organisations and large companies on board. Only then can we re-establish a connection between economy and society.”

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