July 18, 2024

New Research Explores Cellulose-Based Food Packaging as a Substitute for Single-use Plastic

VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has made significant progress in the development of formable cellulose-based webs for rigid packaging in a pilot-scale study. The study has surpassed previous limits of extensibility, allowing for the creation of sustainable 3D packaging solutions that were previously unachievable.

The findings of this research will be presented at The Greener Manufacturing Show 2023 in Cologne, Germany, on November 8–9.

Typical commercial boards offer an extensibility of 3% to 6%, while the best commercial formable boards reach 10% to 18% extensibility. However, through the utilization of foam forming technology, VTT has achieved an impressive extensibility of up to 30%. This breakthrough means that brand owners now have the capability to use rigid, cardboard-like packaging and cater to consumers who seek more sustainable products.

One of the most commonly used polymers, polypropylene film, offers an extensibility of up to 300%. VTT’s cellulose-based packaging provides a viable and sustainable alternative to this widely used plastic, according to Jarmo Kouko, Research Team Leader at VTT.

The results of this pilot-scale study demonstrate the commercial potential of rigid cellulose-based packaging, which has implications for reducing the use of fossil fuel-based materials and achieving carbon-neutral societies in the future. It also aligns with the Single-use Plastics Directive and the European Commission’s proposal for Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which ban plastic items like expanded polystyrene (EPS) food containers and cups in the European Union since 2021.

VTT, together with other partners, has successfully incorporated the cellulose-based packaging into existing packaging lines without requiring any changes in the process. This makes it an accessible, affordable, and easy-to-adopt sustainable alternative for brands, according to Kristian Salminen, Lead, Bio-based Products at VTT.

The development of this cellulose-based packaging is part of a larger research program that involves collaboration between VTT, 54 companies, and the Regional Council of Central Finland, aiming to upscale promising alternatives for plastic products.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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