The Biocompack-CE final conference has taken stock of the European project and outlined its complexities. The project, which was designed to offer innovative solutions in the sector of multi-material packagings in paper and plastics, has laid the foundations for a major international network
Three years. The Biocompack-CE project, which was designed with the objective to provide innovative solutions in the sector of multi-material packagings in paper and plastics, and above all to create a pan-European network of businesses, universities, associations, and research and development centres, which can aggregate and share cross-cutting knowledge and capacities for the sustainable evolution of a sector that is strategic for the markets of the entire planet.
The final conference of the project was held from 26th to 28th October 2020. The conference was organised online instead in presence in Warsaw, as was initially planned, however the latter was not possible due to the peculiar times we are living. Numerous speakers coming from the various countries involved in the project alternated during the three days of the conference.
The first day of the conference focused on current social and market-related problems, which are one of the main challenges of the future that bioeconomics can and should provide answers to. According to Bartlomiej Kozek from Warsaw’s Unep/Grid, «bioeconomics can be a source of economic development: it’s not just about creating new environmentally sustainable products, but it is an opportunity for new job creation». The Biocompack project was, indeed, designed with the aim to create a strong international network to support the sustainable growth of the packaging sector and, precisely because of this reason, a strategy was defined in the first stage of the project that served as guidance for the work of the partners. Substantive guidelines have been, therefore, outlined, which should be followed along the whole lifecycle of the products.
Packagings made up of diverse multi-materials are fundamental in today’s society: however much you can praise the countless properties of as noble a material as paper, if the latter is not combined with something else, i.e. plastic polymers, it is unfortunately bound not to find any application in diverse sectors, especially when it comes to food packaging. Paper unfortunately does not have the barrier properties against external agents, like gases or liquids, which make it possible for it to be used alone. However, for a few decades now we have been able to produce plastic materials originating from renewable substances, like the starch present in several plant species through the fermentation of sugars or even thanks to bacteria capable of synthesizing thermoplastics derived from sugars or lipids. As often happens, costs are the real problem, and this inevitably gives an advantage to plastics of fossil origin. Today more than ever, technological innovation plays a crucial role in this sector, on a par with brave political choices made by decision-making bodies.
The two possible scenarios
Two possible scenarios were analyzed during the project. In the first scenario analyzed, change must be supported by a strong innovation and sustainability official policy, which should rely on local, regional, national and European politicians to continue and further enhance in more specific ways the current support to innovation, circular economy, bioeconomics and sustainable development objectives. The main routes possible to reach these objectives certainly include the possibility to ban combined packaging, if this is not indispensable, compared to mono-material packagings, based on the fact that this is a limit to recycling, when one considers the recycling technology currently available. One may, thus, provide that multi-material packagings are designed in compliance with standards enabling an easy separation of materials, which will then be recycled in their respective supply chains or, if recycling is not a viable solution, e.g. in case of packagings contaminated by food, which will be sent to aerobic or anaerobic digestion plants.
The second scenario is based on a voluntary change in packaging design, that can be started by various stakeholders along the value chain, ranging from packaging producers to major retailers, and including the civil society.
Besides the product strategy, the second day was devoted to the case studies concerned by the three pilot actions, with a specific focus on Lic Packaging, i.e. the Italian company that participated in the Italian case study. «In this case we analyzed meat trays made in different materials,» says Greg Ganczewski of the Polish Packaging Research Institute. «It emerged that the environmental impact of PS packaging is the lowest among the solutions analyzed, and the main reason for this lies in the lowest mass of the product. However, if one considers the advantage provided by the actual recycling of paper, a major difference can be observed with the trays that combine paper and PLA». It is worth mentioning that the solution combining paper and PLA has shown the lowest impact in all intermediate categories, except for the the occupation of agricultural lands, and here the paper FSC certification plays a fundamental role to guarantee the environmental sustainability of the land.
«We believe that combining paper and PLA in this case might have a great potential to replace packagings in traditional materials,» continues Graziano Elegir, in charge of the chemical and environmental sector of the paper division for Innovhub. «We, therefore, provided the company with advice on how to proceed along this route and make its products even more sustainable, e.g. on the need to carry out a complete lifecycle analysis, work on the reduction of the weight of the product, replace part of the paper virgin fibers with recycled fibers, thereby taking into account the various national legislations on packaging in contact with food».
The online network
The case studies have undoubtedly represented the backbone of the project. The case studies gave us the chance to carefully assess the various solutions adopted in the various countries involved, so as to best develop the PaperBioPack online platform, which is the heart of the network that will be created after the official closure of the project and that was the main topic of the conference third day. PaperBioPack is the name chosen for the Transnational Biocomposite Packaging Center (Tbpc), which is a virtual platform designed to support companies, develop new international projects and synergies, as well as simply to exchange information on the world of sustainable packaging. As Greg Ganczewski, who is responsible for the platform’s creation, emphasizes, «the platform provides assessments of scientific, technical, technological and economic feasibility, as well as other types of competences with the aim of providing complete technical support».
Biocompack-CE has been a complex project, which has laid the foundations for a major international network to exchange information and expertise to finally head towards circular economy, which is much debated but is experiencing difficulty in taking off.