Barrier Film Plastic Packaging for Food Products

Barrier Film Plastic Packaging for Food Products: Issues vs Demand

The manufacturing of plastic products is consistently criticised due to its negative effects on the environment. If not managed correctly, the impact on natural systems could be huge. For example, the WWF Report (2018) on plastic pollution suggests that by the year 2050 there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish (microplastics and microplastic by weight).

Criticism of manufacturing plastic products

According to National Geographic about 80% of that pollution and trash originates from land sources – “littering, storm winds, and poor waste management”. This illustrates that our biggest problem is not necessarily the existence of plastic but rather how to manage it responsibly after we have disposed of it. What makes this even more complicated is how easy plastic is to produce, as well as its durability and barrier properties. A product that has become such an integral part of our ecosystem but can have such a detrimental impact if not managed effectively. It is a tragic issue to face as humanity attempts to balance the demands of a growing population with sufficient waste management infrastructure and services. For lack of a better word, it’s unsustainable.

Possible solutions

However, it is not all doom and gloom. In our previous theme on the EPR levy, we noted a great push for investment in the recycling industry that would help address these issues. By increasing the flow of recyclable products into the recycling stream, we can keep the value of these materials in circulation and reduce unnecessary landfill dumping. Other products, such as refuse bags, could be redesigned as they are certainly destined for landfill and no innovative end-of-life management exist. There is a case to argue that they should be converted to biodegradable variants – certified according to international standards. Therefore, our waste management becomes dynamic: diverting as much as possible from landfills but also creating ways in which to reduce landfill mass.

That simple right? Not just yet

One should also consider the complex constructions; the multi-layer plastics that aren’t currently or readily recyclable (e.g., resin code #7). These could be co-extruded materials like vacuum bags or thermoforming film, that are based on a polyethylene (PE) and nylon (PA) blend. While it has been long understood that these materials are not recyclable, new evidence has come to light that suggests the contrary. BASF, a multinational chemical manufacturer, conducted a study earlier this year where they attempted to investigate the potential to recycle a PE/PA mixture. The paper titled ‘Coextruded PE/PA multilayer films are recyclable!’ revealed that certain requirements would need to be met (e.g., the ratio of the blend as well as additives) but that this combination is ultimately recyclable.

However, in saying that, both the technology and infrastructure need to be available to process the material effectively. This isn’t possible within South Africa according to several sources. The same could be said for bioplastics, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Both of which require specific end-of-life conditions for effective waste management. Also, “despite numerous academic research efforts to promote the application of biodegradable polymers in packaging, there are few bio-based/biodegradable polymers in the market that can meet the high demand for food packaging within modern society”. (Wu, Misra, and Mohanty, 2: 2021).

Taking the above into consideration, Sun Plastics is continuously looking at ways in which we can add value. Whether this is providing high-quality barrier film and biodegradable variants according to the most effective market segments, or through the research and information supplied through our marketing programme. We want to be up to date with what’s happening in the market, and we want our customers to be well-informed.