13/06/2022 – Packaging / Film / VTT / Cellulose / Sustainable / Transparent
VTT develops transparent cellulose film to replace traditional plastic in food packaging
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is piloting a new transparent cellulose film that reduces microplastic.
Food packages fulfil their most important tasks when they protect food and minimise waste. Thin plastic films are nevertheless difficult to recycle, and they often end up in the wrong places after use. Now, VTT has developed a solution to the problem of plastic packaging: Regenerated or recrystallised cellulose that can replace plastic films.
“Bio-based and biodegradable”
“We can produce transparent and flexible cellulose film. The consumer cannot distinguish between the crystal-clear material and traditional oil-based plastic,” claimed VTT Research Professor Ali Harlin. “Cellulose film can resist dampness, but in nature it disappears as completely as a sheet of paper does. The product is bio-based and biodegradable.”
In addition to their protective properties, plastics are important because consumers desire packages that allow them to view the product itself. However, once they have been used, much packaging becomes the source of problems. If a package contains both paper and plastic, the consumer may wonder if it can be recycled with cardboard, or if the plastic needs to be torn off first. Some materials have alternating layers of fibre and plastic. Much packaging is placed among mixed waste by people who cannot envisage a better way of disposing of it. Plastic that ends up in a cardboard recycling bin can be removed, but the plastic usually ends up incinerated.
“The cellulose film developed by VTT can replace plastic as a more climate-friendly solution. It also makes recycling easy, as it can be placed in cardboard recycling along with other packages,” advised Atte Virtanen, Vice President, for Biomaterial processing and products at VTT.
Finland remains far from the goals set by the EU for reducing the environmental harm caused by plastics. At present, only around 20 per cent of plastics are collected, and even less of that ends up recycled. Under the EU target, 55 per cent of plastics should be recycled by 2025.
Plastic film market worth US$110 billion
Finland is currently more of a packaging material country than a printing paper country. Last year the value of sales of cardboard exceeded that of paper for the first time. The forest industry is looking for new products with a sizeable market that bring a value-added aspect. Flexible, transparent cellulose film is one such product, given that the world market for plastic films amounted to roughly US$110 billion last year.
VTT's unique expertise has been used in cellulose film as a replacement for plastic. “VTT has researched cellulose films for more than 10 years, and for more than six years on regenerated cellulose in transparent films,” noted Virtanen.
The production of packaging material is currently in the pilot phase, according to VTT, which added that the innovative material could be in extensive industrial use within five to seven years.
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