Volume 12, Issue 1

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Economical Process Yields Bio-Based Alternative To Pet For Containers, Film

Researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a cross-disciplinary research center led by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI, have developed a process to economically produce high yields of furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) from biomass.

FDCA is a precursor to polyethylene furanoate (PEF), a bio-based alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a resin widely used in bottles, flexible packaging and non-packaging applications. However PEF’s potential to serve as a more sustainable alternative to PET has been hampered by the high cost of producing FDCA.

The new process begins with fructose and relies on a plant-derived solvent called gamma-Valerolactone (GVL). The fructose is converted to FDCA in two steps in a solvent system composed of one part GVL and one part water. The end result is a high yield of FDCA that easily separates from the solvent.

“Until now, FDCA has had a very low solubility in practically any solvent you make it in,” says Ali Hussain Motagamwala, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student in chemical and biological engineering and co-author of the study, published on Jan. 19, 2018, in Science Advances. He explains, “You have to use a lot of solvent to get a small amount of FDCA, and you end up with high separation costs and undesirable waste product. Using the GVL solvent solves most of the problems with the production of FDCA. Sugars and FDCA are both highly soluble in this solvent, you get high yields and you can easily separate and recycle the solvent.” In addition, the system doesn’t require costly mineral acids for catalysis, doesn’t produce waste salts and permits separation of the FDCA crystals from the solvent by simply cooling the reaction system.

The team’s techno-economic analysis suggests that the process could produce FDCA at a selling price of $1,490 per ton. With improvements such as lowering the cost of feedstock and reducing the reaction time, the price could drop to $1,310 per ton, which would make the FDCA cost-competitive with some fossil fuel-derived plastic precursors.



“We think this is the streamlined and inexpensive approach to making FDCA that many people in the plastics industry have been waiting for,” concludes James Dumesic, professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Our hope is that this research opens the door even further to cost-competitive renewable plastics.”


The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation is working to license GVL technology for use in bioplastics production.

A crystal of furandicarboxylic acid, or FDCA. Image by Ali Hussain Motagamwala and James Runde



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Cellulose-Based Packaging Wins Circular Materials Challenge

Cellulose-based packaging from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Espoo, Finland, has won a prize from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Cowes, U.K., in the New Plastics Economy Innovation Prize competition. The heat-sealable, cellulose-based material is safe, renewable, recyclable and compostable. The new material can extend the shelf life of food, while also reducing food waste and the worldwide microplastics pollution problem.

VTT developed the lightweight packaging material by combining cellulose films with different, but complementary properties. Optimization of cellulose layers delivers excellent packaging properties. The flexible, transparent material protects products from atmospheric gases and humidity. It also forms a barrier against grease or mineral oil. In terms of properties, the material is highly competitive or better than currently available biodegradable bioplastics. With minor modifications, it can be produced on existing production equipment.

“By optimizing the layer structure, we can improve the technical properties and reduce the amount of materials used,” reports Ali Harlin, research professor at VTT. “If the package was manufactured of one cellulose-based material only that would meet all the requirements for a good packaging material, the package would be very thick and heavy,” he explains. He predicts the material can be commercialized in three to five years.


The plastic-like material is suitable for packaging dry and greasy products, such as nuts, cereals, coffee, condiments and raisins. The greatest benefits can be achieved for products with a long shelf life.

As one of five winners in the Circular Materials Challenge, VTT receives 20% of a US$1 million award. The five award recipients also receive 12 months of expert support from the New Plastic Economy Accelerator Programme to help commercialize their process. At the end of the year, the Foundation will award an additional US$1 million prize to the best contestant.

The awards ceremony on Jan. 23, 2018, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, also recognized technology from the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Aronax Technologies, a virtual company with partners in the U.S., Spain and Russia; Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research, Würzburg, Germany; and a team from Full Cycle Bioplastics, Richmond, CA; Elk Packaging, Los Angeles, CA; and Associated Labels and Packaging, Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada.

University of Pittsburgh is producing all-polyethylene flexible packaging with enhanced properties by altering the nano-structure of the polyethylene. This promotes recyclability by providing desired properties without adding layers of different materials.

Aronax Technologies Spain takes a different route to a similar goal. It applies a magnetic additive to improve the air and water vapor barrier of the flexible packaging material without impacting its recyclability.

Working together, Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging, and Associated Labels and Packaging make a compostable, high-performance, multilayer material from cellulose-based materials and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) derived from organic waste. Applications include packaging for foods like granola bars and nonfoods such as laundry detergent. Because the PHA is made from organic waste, the composted material can serve as the raw material for making new bioplastic.

Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC has developed a compostable coating with silicate and biopolymers. It can be used in food packaging applications to protect biopolymer packaging and food against premature degradation.

In a statement issued on January 23, 2018, Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Foundation and a well-known sailing competitor, said, “In a New Plastics Economy, plastics will never become waste or enter the ocean in the first place. To get there will require new levels of commitment and collaboration from industry, governments, designers and startups. I hope these innovations will inspire even more progress, helping to build a system in which all plastic materials are reused, recycled or safely composted.” .


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Coca-Cola Pledges 100% Recycling

The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA, has committed to help collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging by 2030.


This goal is the centerpiece of the company’s new packaging vision for a Word Without Waste, which includes a multi-year investment to make packaging 100% recyclable.

“Bottles and cans shouldn’t harm our planet, and a litter-free world is possible,” says James Quincey, president and CEO of The Coca-Cola Co. “Companies like ours must be leaders. Consumers around the world care about our planet, and they want and expect companies to take action. That’s exactly what we’re going to do, and we invite others to join us on this critical journey.”

To meet its goal, the company plans to:
Invest in the planet: By 2030, for every bottle or can the Coca-Cola system sells globally, it plans to help take one back so it has more than one life. The company is investing marketing dollars and skills to help people understand what, how and where to recycle. Efforts include supporting collection of packaging across the industry, including bottles and cans from other companies, and working with local communities, industry partners, customers and consumers to address issues like packaging litter and marine debris.

Invest in packaging: To achieve its collection goal, The Coca-Cola Co. continues to work toward making all of its packaging 100% recyclable globally. The company is building better bottles, whether through more recycled content, by developing plant-based resins or by reducing the amount of plastic in each container. By 2030, the system aims to make bottles with an average of 50% recycled content.

The company is working with several global partners: the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, The Ocean Conservancy/Trash Free Seas Alliance and World Wildlife Fund (The Cascading Materials Vision and Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance). Coca-Cola also will launch efforts with regional and local partners and plans to work with key customers to help motivate consumers to recycle more packaging.


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Glass Containers Achieve Cradle To Cradle Certification

Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I), Perrysburg, Ohio, is the first food and beverage packaging company to achieve a gold rating in material health on the Cradle to Cradle Product Scorecard.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program of the Cradle to Cradle Products Institute, Oakland, CA, is one of the premier sustainability certifications for products around the world and across industries. The certification is based on five categories: material health, material reutilization, water stewardship, renewable energy use and social fairness.

The rigorous product assessment by MBDC, an environmental consulting firm in Charlottesville, VA, included the company’s beer, food, nonalcoholic beverage, spirits and wine platforms. Nearly 90% of O-I’s glass operations were certified across product categories and for certain container colors.

“Achieving a gold rating in material health strongly reinforces the benefits of glass,” says Jim Nordmeyer, vice president, Global Sustainability at O-I. He explains, “Glass is safe for repeated food contact and endlessly recyclable. It’s virtually impermeable to oxygen so it protects the freshness and taste of consumers’ favorite food and beverage brands.

“The certification provides brand owners, consumers, regulators and shareholders tangible validation of our company’s ongoing commitment to sustainability. It’s an important baseline and helps us identify next steps to improve our environmental and social performance.”

Jay Bolus, president of Certification Services at MBDC, reports, O-I “is a company taking innovation to the next level, seeking ways to partner with other industry leaders to incorporate more recycled content, maximize use of renewable energy and consider the full use cycle of its glass products. The company’s continued pursuit of Cradle to Cradle certification signifies its brand quality and value for its consumers and the environment.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes cradle to cradle certification as a top-tier product sustainability standard in its new federal green purchasing guidelines.

Cradle to Cradle® is a registered trademark of MBDC, LLC. Cradle to Cradle Certified™ is a certification mark licensed by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

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Energybag Program Expands

Cobb County, GA, and Boise, ID, join the Hefty® EnergyBag™ program (TricorBraun Sustainability Times, September/October 2017) with the receipt of $50,000 grants from Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, Midland, MI, and Keep America Beautiful, Stamford, CT. The program diverts from landfills plastics that are not currently recycled and converts the materials – such as chip bags and juice pouches – into valuable energy resources.


The two winning communities rated highest on key selection criteria: host city/municipality, materials recovery facility and hauler participation; number of targeted households; availability of existing recycling carts for curbside collection; and accessibility of a suitable end market outlet to turn the plastics collected into an alternative energy resource.

“The Hefty EnergyBag program will complement existing plastic recycling systems in each community,” says Diego Donoso, business president for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “By investing in resource recovery, Boise and Cobb County will be able to divert more non-recycled plastics from landfills by turning these valuable materials into new energy resources.”

Facilities utilizing advanced non-combustion conversion technologies convert the collected packaging into a liquid fuel, such as diesel. Long term, these technologies have the potential to generate feedstocks in a closed-loop system and can be used to produce new plastics, keeping resources in use and at their highest value, thereby helping create a more circular economy.

To date, Hefty EnergyBag curbside and non-curbside programs, which include a 2014 pilot in Citrus Heights, CA, have diverted more than 17 tons of plastics from the landfill. The first full-scale program started in September 2016 in Omaha, NE. In its first year, the Omaha program collected more than 19,500 bags and diverted approximately 11 tons of plastics from the landfill, the equivalent to approximately 8.6 million snack-sized chip bags.

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About the author

Hallie Forcinio has covered packaging-related environmental topics for more than 25 years, first as an editor on Food & Drug Packaging magazine (now Packaging Strategies) and more recently as a freelance packaging journalist and principal of Forcinio Communications, an editorial services firm. “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 Pharmaceutical Technology, Dairy Foods and National Provisioner. She also serves as editorial director of the PACK EXPO Show Daily.

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