Avantium (Netherlands), which plans to commercialize PEF on a large scale by the end of 2023, has already signed off-take agreements with major brand owners such as the LVMH group, which plans to use PEF-based packaging materials in their luxury cosmetic products. For example, Avantium's PEF LCA analysis claims that the use of PEF in a bottle is expected to reduce GHG emissions by 33% over the lifecycle of the bottle. However, PEF’s mass acceptance in the market is yet to be proven.
PLA (Poly Lactic Acid)
PLA is a novel polymer with excellent barrier properties and a strong presence in the packaging industry. They are widely marketed as a bio-alternative to PET, PVC, PS (polystyrene), PP (polypropylene), and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). They can also be used to partially or completely replace LDPE, HDPE, PP, PA, PS, or PET. BioPak Pty Ltd. (Australia) and Coveris Flexibles (UK) have a diverse portfolio of PLA-based packages. Another intriguing fact about PLA is that its cradle-to-gate (carbon impact of a product from production to usage) Global Warming Potential (GWP) is confirmed to be only 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq). It represents a 75% reduction in carbon footprint compared to most traditional plastics (Totalcorbion LCA analysis of PLA).
On the other hand, the slow biodegradability of PLA has long been a source of concern for the industry, and companies were already working to address the issue. The most notable aspect of this is the production of highly degradable PLA that can also biodegrade in the oceans. Teijin Limited (Japan) has created highly biodegradable plastic as part of its THINK ECO® environmental initiative by incorporating a biodegradation accelerator into its PLA grade. They can biodegrade without the assistance of bacteria, fungi, or even any additives. Furthermore, PLA is one of the fastest-growing biopolymers; its manufacturing process is now much cheaper and uses less energy than it did years ago. Though it may have limitations/ impact on the product quality or expiry of the product that is filled in the packaging. Because of this limitation, we can't use it for a wide range of products as it is self-biodegradable.
PHA (Polyhydroxy alkanoates)
PHAs are a broad class of biodegradable polymers, but only a few of them are primarily commercialized, including PHB/P3HB (Poly (3-hydroxy butyrate)) and its copolymers, PHBV (Poly (3-hydroxy butyrate-co-3-hydroxy valerate)), PHBH, and P3HB4HB. They are often marketed as an alternative to other bioplastics such as PLA, PBS, PBAT, and others. PHA reduces the potential for global warming by 80%, with GHG emissions of 0.49 KG (CO2-eq) compared to (2-3) KG (CO2-eq) in their petrochemical counterparts. Some of their drawbacks include the lack of microplastic formation, biodegradability, and vapor barrier performance. They are completely biodegradable in freshwater, seawater, soil, home compost, industrial compost, landfills, etc. A few of the companies, such as Bacardi (Bermuda) and Shellworks (UK), have already started using PHAs in their food & beverage packaging, though the high cost can be one of the reasons for limited mass adoption.
Due to the unique properties of PHAs and to address cost-related issues, a few industrial companies are conducting research and development for other short-chain length (SCL) PHAs like P4HB and medium-chain length (MCL) PHAs like PHBO for large-scale production and industrial applications.
Bio-PE is a drop in biopolymer with partial bio-content or full bio-content. They are chemically identical to their petrochemical counterparts because bio-PE grades have the same processing characteristics as fossil PE. They can be processed using the same plastic processing equipment (blow molding/injection molding/extrusion) with no additional investment. Braskem (Brazil) is the market leader in Bio-PE, with a capacity of more than 200 KTPA, and they are expecting to expand their volume capacity five-fold by 2030 due to rising demand for Bio-PE. Apart from packaging companies like TetraPak Company (Switzerland) and SIG Combibloc Packaging Company (Switzerland), they are also used in other industries, like the famous toy manufacturer Lego (Denmark).