The English statistician R. A. Fisher provided a summation of the opening meeting of Australian Institute of Packaging [AIP] in Victoria for 2010 when he said "The best causes tend to attract in their support the worst arguments". Worst is probably a bit strong but certainly arguments abound in the cause of Renewable and Compostable Packaging.
This was the theme of a forum organised for the edification of members of AIP and the Society of Plastics Engineers [SPE] who turned out in droves to listen to a keynote address by Alan Adams President of Australasian Bioplastics Association [www.bioplastics.org.au] [ABA] followed by a panel of experts from five companies that are involved in the development of alternative plastics to those derived from fossil fuels.
The brief of the meeting read: -
"Much has been said about packaging with materials from renewable & compostable resources, some of it in controversy. But if you wanted to package your goods in these materials today, is the technology advanced enough to cater for your requirements? Come and challenge the panelists with your application. The focus for the evening will be to explore packaging options, in generic terms, that could be implemented already."
Mr Adams explained the vision and focuses of ABA and reiterated the regulations that underpin protocols to be a supplier of biopolymer materials. The association web site carries this explanation: -
To be certified compostable and carry the seedling logo, suitable biopolymer materials must undergo a stringent test regime, carried out by independent accredited laboratories to major global standards, in order to confirm that their inclusion will have no negative effect on soil or compost quality. Once successful testing is complete, application for formal certification must be made to the ABA. Successful applicants will be licensed to use the logo along with their unique certification number.
Use of the seedling logo is available to both packaging material producers and their customers. Converters/manufacturers purchasing compostable films can potentially use them as the basis for achieving their own product certification. The rules, testing requirements and costs involved will vary depending on the complexity of the conversion carried out on the materials.
He went on to explain the reasoning for, and the development of Bioplastics for packaging and how exacting the certification process is, as well as advising of some non conformance materials. Testing of eucalyptus leaves indicated that although the material was used in composting for other purposes it did not totally degrade and could not be accepted as a feedstock for Bioplastics.
Development of new technology and engaging the consumer in accepting alternatives to things that they have used for a long time and derive comfort from is hard enough without unlimited external pressure, but companies making biodegradable, degradable and recyclable claims on plastic bags are already under focus by the regulators.
But although there have been setbacks the future is highly optimistic and depends on "closing the loop" to get Bioplastics as accepted in recycling systems as the materials they are designed to replace. Like most new developments consumers will be the catalyst for change and Alan Adams is very confident that consumer support is latent. He used the example of shoppers paying extra for reusable shopping bags as an indicator that if consumers believe the message they will accept change.
To support the aforementioned Fisher's contention the question and answer session facilitated by Robin Tuckerman FAIP did engender some arguments but such is the path to success. Based on the questions, answers and debate the path to success needs a detailed roadmap.
Verbatim replication of the responses would fill many pages so some pearls of wisdom and achievements are deemed sufficient.
v Landfill is designed to not have products breakdown.
v All products need to be self sustaining and government assistance would detract from the desired outturn.
v The actions proposed as inclusion in NPC 3 will assist in the extension of composting and technology development.
v Bioplastic planter pots are being used in commercial applications such as FNQ mosquitoes eradication programs with potential to export the technology.
v For retail application the ascetics of the pots tend to sway customers toward the more solid plastic pots.
v There are Australian and European standards that detail the requirements
v PLA recycling is occurring in China and has good potential
v The composting associations and governments are the drivers to extend the processes but a three to five year time frame is envisaged.
v The proposed addition to number system for recyclable materials is still to be resolved but the new technology at MRF does not read numbers just identifies material.
v Source materials do not compete for food or bio-fuel feed stocks.
v The world's demand for material could be obtained from one small area of Italy.
v Some application of PLA as a substitute for EPS foam is happening in New Zealand.
Not to detract from the panel members who gave of their time and expertise it is Dr Frank Glatz of Cardia Bioplastics who was a late inclusion in the panel that seemed to have the poignant advice for the industry. [His company was successful in supply of an alternative when the South Australian Government banned non-compostable plastic bags in May 2009.]
He advised that he visited a Marks and Spencer food store and did not find a lot of food just packaging. So there is obviously a lot of opportunity to convert current packaging to renewable and compostable and to also introduce packages that will take the developing sector to new heights.
An important message gleaned was to be careful that you do not contravene the ACCC by engaging in Greenwashing! The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [ACCC] have already taken suppliers of newer materials to court for misleading consumers. In the ACCC document released about claims made to support plastic bags it states: -
Be careful that the overall impression your claim could create in the minds of consumers is not misleading. It does not matter whether a representation is technically or narrowly correct—its overall impression must not lead consumers into error. Your intention when making a claim is irrelevant in determining whether the actual conduct breaches the Trade Practices Act.
Misleading conduct can include what is not said if, in all the relevant circumstances, there is a reasonable expectation that something will be disclosed. If, for example, you put 'recyclable' on a product when it can be recycled only in limited circumstances, this could be a misrepresentation through silence.
Consumers are savvier and will not be easily fooled by spin doctors. Is the petrol from Beyond Petroleum [BP] any different to that from British Petroleum [BP]? KFC is still fried!
Written by Michael B Halley FAIP
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Reviewed by Robin Tuckerman