Usable Packaging • Unlocking the potential of sustainable biodegradable packaging

The Usable Packaging project is building a new value chain for bioplastics based on low-cost and widely available feedstocks, such as by-products of the food processing industry. The idea is to design truly innovative packaging and rethink its production. The project converts the feedstock into polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) that can be adapted to packaging specifications and requirements. The result will be high-performance packaging that can replace fossil-based materials while retaining its biodegradable characteristics.

In addition to the development of commercially viable alternatives to petrochemical packaging materials, the Usable Packaging project intends to:

  • develop environmentally sustainable biobased packaging suitable for organic recycling, via an existing bio-waste collection network, organic recycling at PHA production facilities, or home composting
  • produce packaging materials that biodegrade in different environments, including marine settings
  • improve circularity by means of eco-design over the full range of applications
  • ensure the end-of-life phase is wholly sustainable by creating a fully circular, vertically integrated supply chain

Context

Bioplastics currently have a market share of just 2% in the European Union. In addition, many bioplastics are only partially biodegradable and cannot solve end-of-life issues. They also compete with feedstocks for the food and feed sectors, pushing up costs. The amount of non-biodegradable biobased plastics on the market is expected to grow as the number of replacements for fossil-based counterparts continues to increase.

It is important for biodegradable bioplastics to up their game. However, many bioplastics lack adequate functional properties. In addition, the complexity of multilayer packaging limits the bio-degradability and compostability of the whole packaging item.

Expected results

The Usable Packaging project seeks to deliver a number of specific results:

  • Creation of a new connection between the food processing and bioplastics industries (where waste from the food processing industry feedstock supplies the bio-plastics industry).
  • Development of a new value chain in terms of feedstock, process and products with grades designed for specific packaging applications.
  • Development of eight biobased packaging product applications. The recyclability end-of-life destination will be embedded in the product design, improving sustainability.
  • Validation and optimisation of a new process for electrospinning PHA with controlled biomass content as part of a vertically-integrated production process. The production of electrospun adhesives will make it possible to create complex multilayer packaging structures with biobased biodegradable plastics.
  • Provision of a basis for making biopolymers competitive with existing petrochemical-based plastics thanks to lower raw material costs and offsetting end-of-life costs through conversion to biogas or biodegradable polymers.
  • Delivery of significant savings of around 50% in the end-of-life phase of packaging.
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