PLA is already being used in a number of packaging applications today, such as fruit and vegetable packaging in supermarkets, single-use shopping bags and disposable drinking cups at concerts and sports events. For those packaging applications where heat resistance is not required, standard PLA offers a number of benefits. It is biobased, compostable, transparent and recyclable.
Fresh fruit and vegetable packaging: prolonging shelf life
The shelf life of fresh fruit and vegetables can be extended, thanks to the water permeability of PLA: moisture can more easily pass through the film and isn’t trapped inside the packaging. This helps to prolong the shelf life of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Dual-use shopping bags: encouraging organic waste collection and reducing littering
In Europe, approximately 6 billion carrier bags are used each year. These bags are mainly distributed via large food and non-food retail stores. On average, EU citizens use 198 plastic bags per year1.
Lightweight plastic shopping carrier bags are a most convenient and useful product, just a few grams of plastics are necessary to carry loads of goods safely. However, negligent consumer behavior, e.g., wrong disposal (littering) or excessive use, has harmed the image of this useful product and challenged its future in Europe. A re-usable bag is the preferred article for carrying goods but is not always at hand. A growing number of retailers now wish to offer shopping bags with an improved ecological profile.
Carrier bags made of bioplastics represent a valuable alternative to conventional fossil-based bag types. PLA based compounds are an excellent material of choice for single use shopping bags. They can replace traditional oil-based shopping bags, and have a lower carbon footprint. Furthermore, in countries where organic waste is collected, shopping bags that are biobased and compostable according EN13432 (such as those made from PLA based compounds) can be used to collect organic waste, in effect making it a dual use bag. Studies2 have shown that compostable biowaste bags help to increase the amount of biowaste collected, and thus diverted from landfills, improving the quality of compost. Dual use also reduces the number of bags that are littered or end up in landfills: only 0.17% of single-use biodegradable bags are littered – this stands in clear contrast to the 6.7% of single-use non-biodegradable plastic bags being littered3.
Drinking cups: closed-loop recycling
PLA drinking cups are already being used at major sports stadiums, festivals and concert halls. Such densely populated events are ideally suited to PLA cups because their closed-loop collection systems allow for easier collection of a single-material stream, which can then be recycled into new cups. For more information on recycling PLA, please click here.
1 European Commission: Assessment of impacts of options to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags. Croatia was not yet included in this assessment
2 BASF: http://www.basf.com/group/pressemitteilungen/P-12-179
3 Commission Staff Working Document: Impact Assessment for a Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, table 3, p. 15.