The second Italian meeting of the Biocompack CE European project, financed by the Interreg Central Europe (2014-2020) programme, exchanges betthe players of a long chain, from manufacturers to public administrations, passing through companies using packaging. The defining of how to make multi-material products must, in fact, consider the various market requirements.
After the Italian launch on 30 November 2017 https://www.paperindustryworld.com/issues/201801-march/, it is continuing with the Biocompack CE European project www.interreg-central.eu.
On 12 April last year in Milan (Italy), at the ADA Stecca degli Artigiani, the second workshop was held with the aim of involving, alongside the players of the sectors concerned – the paper and plastic industries – also, and in particular, the users of packaging. Comparison with the reference market is, in fact, essential in order to understand the requirements and assess what types of commercial and communication strategies to implement. No research project, no technical innovation, of system or product has a real value if it does not find a suitable space.
From technology to communication
The call of the two Italian partners of the project, Innovhub www.innovhub-ssi.it and Legambiente www.legambiente.it, has not gone unheard, demonstrating the real interest that is focussed around sustainable packaging.
The project is based on the commitment of the businesses involved to manufacture from renewable raw materials and thus encourage the circular economy. Technical innovation and research are fundamental to enabling recyclable products to be placed on the market. At a European level there needs to be interventions on three fronts, explained Giorgio Zampetti, General Manager of Legambiente: regulations, technical examination – for which it is essential that companies make strong choices – and research. In the relationship between these aspects lies the purpose of the Biocompack-CE programme.
“The aim of the project” also stated Graziano Elegir, manager of the chemical and environmental sector of the paper division of Innovahub Milano, “is to promote the introduction of bioplastics and biopolymers in cellulose-based multi-material packaging”.
The second Italian meeting was deliberately a non-technical workshop, but “aimed at identifying medium-term strategies to encourage the introduction into the market of these products which, at the moment, are still a niche market”. The commitment of the project, emphasised Elegir, must also be around identifying the most appropriate strategies to increase dissemination and improve communication to the market; not forgetting, obviously, the technical objectives of improvement of biopolymers and development of new packaging solutions – also in terms of ecodesign – as well as structuring suitable collection systems for the new packaging.
The various ways of recycling
During the workshop there was great emphasis on the topic of how to communicate correctly and clearly with the consumer which products can be sent for composting or recycling. Without prejudice, in fact, that paper is a material which is absolutely compatible with composting, it is essential that the consumer considers, first of all, the possibility of recycling it and only when the fibre can no longer be recycled is organic recycling chosen. In fact, whilst the biopolymers which make bioplastics are destined for composting and cannot be reused, paper materials can – and must – be sent back to the paper mill where they constitute secondary raw material. A position which Assocarta www.assocarta.it and CIC –Consorzio italiano compostatori– www.compost.it are in agreement with, and which underlines the importance of the quality of the waste. An overly impure material becomes, in fact, an operating cost for whoever has to recycle it. In paper mills, for example, the waste material remaining following recovery of the fibres, which re-enter the manufacturing cycle, is transformed into special waste. It is precisely on this issue, Massimo Ramunni, vice director of Assocarta, reminded us, that a significant gap opens up between the Italian paper mills and their competitors in the rest of Europe. These latter, in fact, “have found solutions to manage waste through energy recovery; in general it is regarding mixed plastics which cannot be separated out and re-used. Energy recovery thus becomes the optimal solution, a solution which, however, in Italy is not yet possible”.
Another question for the paper mills is regarding bioplastics. “One has to understood how they react in the paper manufacturing process: do they come under plastics and therefore can go for energy recovery or disposal, or do they disintegrate in the process or risk clogging up the installation? Important aspects to be considered, for which it is essential that, at the point at which products later destined for recycling are put on the market, the actual impact of their materials at the end of use is checked”.
Meanwhile a lot is being done to promote bioplastics, which are increasingly replacing traditional plastics. Italy has a leading role in this sector, as has confirmed Marco Versari, President of Assobioplastiche www.assobioplastiche.org. Bioplastics having come into being during the 1990s in support of differentiated waste collection of the organic fraction of urban waste, he reminded people during the meeting, Italy is one of the largest manufacturers of them. However, things are also changing in this sense, in as much as it seems that the first new proposals are appearing on the internal market from other markets, like Asia. Evidence that bioplastics are an expanding sector.
R&D in companies
Companies are willing to invest in sustainable packaging, but it remains important to adopt an industry approach. Filippo Rossi, Sales Manager of Cartonspecialist http://www.biopap.com/, and Armido Marana, Managing Director of Ecozema https://ecozema.com reminded the workshop of this. The former are manufacturers of high quality cellulose food containers, able to withstand low and high temperatures (from -40 to +215°C), which are compostable. The second manufacture disposable tableware in bioplastic or cellulose which is biodegradable and compostable, disposable in the collection of damp waste. Medium-sized companies, but with a strong propensity for innovation, which invest greatly in research and development. From their experiments can be seen the same requirement of industries to be receptive to new technologies suggested by them. The market is paying attention to their products, but often lacks the will to change, to try to adapt to new conditions. “The companies that use packaging in the food sector are sensitive towards these new products of low environmental impact”, stated Rossi, “but often lack the readiness to change their own manufacturing process; even with small expedients which would allow them to use our containers. There must be a readiness and real willingness to use this type of product”. Even Marana confirmed how the demands of the market can constitute an obstacle to the development of new products. “There is excellent scope for improvement, but the problem is often due to the fact that there are requests for properties which our products cannot yet meet”.
Certainly in the last few years traditional industries have done a lot, but there are already new challenges to meet. One of these, as Eliana Farotto, Research & Development Manager for Comieco www.comieco.org, highlighted, is food delivery. “It is a new industry, at the moment still not brilliant from the packaging point of view. In this respect we are working on a packaging which, if dirty from food, can be assigned for composting whilst, if clean, can be sent to paper recycling. Not an easy task if you consider the need to comply with food contact standards”. Published throughout Europe, such standards are, in fact, especially stringent and restrictive, particularly in Italy where, for example, it is not possible to use recycled fibre in contact with food. However, “the spread of more sustainable packaging is still limited”, emphasises Farotto, “not only are there few manufacturers who make it, but there are also few installations able to recycle these materials”. The usage culture must obviously also play its part, “there are some needs and habits about which even the final consumer can be educated”, both in terms of choice of products and with regard to correct differentiated waste collection. In this respect Farotto reminded people that, for the collection and recycling of cellulose-based packaging, Italy is amongst the top European countries, with a recycling rate of 80% which even exceeds the objective of the new directive on cellulose-based packaging of 75% by 2025. Symptom of a very active manufacturing and recycling industry.
In conclusion, synergic work is required which involves all the players, including those who are at the end of the long chain, namely the collection centres. The efficiency of the whole system, as was reiterated during the Milan meeting, must also apply to the facilities for collection, which must be structured and organised effectively in the area; a role which is also up to public administration.
Europe and the strategy on plastic
Whilst the paper and plastic industries continue their research into biodegradable multi-materials, on 28 May last the European Commission presented measures, in the form of a draft directive, which will lead to a gradual elimination of the use of traditional plastics; measures which come within the scope of the European strategy on plastic. In particular, a ban is expected on manufacturing and selling products and other tools made from single-use plastic – from plates, glasses and cutlery to cotton buds, to straws, just to give a few examples.
“Together these constitute 70% of all marine litter items” is stated in the European Commission press release. “The new rules are proportionate and tailored to get the best results. This means different measures will be applied to different products. Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. For products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus is on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers. Together, the new rules will put Europe ahead of the curve on an issue with global implications”.
The intention is to arrive at the first tangible results within a year.