The use of flexible packaging in Europe shows a consumption of 9.2 Million tons of polyolefins in year 2007, around 5 % of this amount corresponds to extruded tubular nets, accounting approximately 450.000 tons. Products packed with nets include potatoes, onions, green beans, garlic, shellfish, etc. At this moment, the end-life treatment of this plastic material is mixed with household waste. The management of this waste causes problems to household waste treatment due to low biodegradation rate, low apparent density and high strength (i.e. there is a difficulty in cutting the material and the nets may get entangled and collapse treatment machines).
Substitution of conventional plastic nets by compostable ones enables to minimise the environmental impact (reduction in plastic waste, global warming and used energy), since these nets will suffer a complete degradation in appropriate site conditions (composting conditions). There are no commercially available biodegradable polymers to be used directly to manufacture nets using the conventional equipment. Although it has been detected recently that some companies have manufactured other types of biodegradable net, they use commercial biodegradable materials and different equipment at higher cost and lower properties than the project target.
In this context, the project aims to achieve added value biodegradable and compostable nets while at the same time making them price competitive. Moreover, weight and mechanical properties of the new nets are comparable with conventional ones. Coordinated by Instituto Tecnológico del Plástico, AIMPLAS (Spain), and funded under the CIP Eco-Innovation program, the project groups a multidisciplinary set of 5 organizations that joined their knowledge and expertise in different areas along the net packaging value chain in order to meet this market need. Started in September 2010, it will achieve its final conclusions in March 2013.
The industrialization process for the bio compounds used in the project has been optimized both for the compounding and processing of bio-materials. The consortium studied and achieved the processability of the bio-materials in a one-step extrusion process and in conventional net extrusion equipment (Extrusion Melt Spinning, EMS). The industrialization of four different types of nets is addressed: non-oriented nets, oriented nets, net for a shellfish products and combination of net and plastic sheet. The obtained nets have physical and mechanic properties comparable to conventional ones with the advantage of being fully biodegradable and compostable, cost-competitive and eco-certified (an eco-label will identify and make them differ from the rest).
The project reuses some of the ideas that came up in previous PICUS project (FP6, 2005 - 2007) and some of the developed compounds. In fact, the partners are implementing and adapting some of these compounds for net packaging and commercial use.
The oriented net has already been fully developed while demonstration for the non-oriented ones is still running. Therefore, TRL level is estimated to be 9 and 7 respectively. The characteristics of the product make it suitable for market uptake and the consortium already has the necessary industrial and commercial expertise. The IPR will belong to each partner to the extent of their participation while the exploitation rights have not been decided yet. The application field is packaging, concretely agricultural and shellfish products. End-users will be department stores, supermarkets and agricultural and shellfish producers.