Author: Lenar Barner-Rasmussen
Meet the game changer EarthCoating® that can drastically reduce the need for plastics across all product segments.
Fibre-based packaging comes out as a strong contender for replacing traditional plastic packaging. However, for most packaging you need some sort of a polymer barrier to maintain structure and protect the food content. This barrier may pose some challenges in the recycling process as some recycling facilities shy away from packaging containing combined materials. And with good reason. As the packaging go through the pulper that releases the material into miniscule particles, there’s fear that the polymer layer will clog the system.
The pulping process for traditional plastic coatings separates the plastic from the fibres to form large flakes that are lighter than water. After pulping, pressure-screening systems are used to remove almost all the remaining contaminants. However, light plastic particles may clog and foul the pressure screens, disrupting the process.
But what if there was a way to make the polymer coating break up efficiently in the pulper?
Turns out there is.
Chris Tilton at California-based Smart Planet Technologies looked into the matter, and developed EarthCoating®, which is a polymer that is applied to paper or board using extrusion coating. It can be applied wherever a moisture or water vapour barrier is needed. It is denser than standard polyethylene (PE), requiring up to 50% less polymers to be used to achieve the same result.
“The technology is based on the mineralizing of polyolefin extrusion coatings. The mineral content is evenly dispersed throughout the resin. These evenly dispersed particles in the resin compound ensure high performance and easy processing during extrusion. The dense structure of the minerals, which consists of highly refined calcium carbonate, hinders percolation through the layers”, he explains.
This makes it easy to repulp and hence recycle, as the barrier can easily be separated from the fibre in the recycling facilities without any clogging.
The technology can be applied to a number of plastics coatings such as polyethylene and bio-polymers.
“With EarthCoating®, you can reduce the need for plastics in virtually any product”, says Tilton.
EarthCoating® is now widely used throughout the world. Walki has a license agreement with Smart Planet Technologies to use earth coating in its solutions for customers.
”We see a great potential with the technology across our business lines and have developed alternative easy recyclable structures for current packaging that we are in process of implementing together with our customers”, says Annika Sundell, Executive Vice President, Innovation at Walki.
For a zero-waste world, EarthCoating® is nothing short of a game-changer.
“The minerals reduce the cost of the resin and mineralized plastics provide all the performance advantages such as barrier, strength and heat-sealibility of a 100% plastic material”, says Tilton.
Millions of tons of plastic can be removed on a global scale.
“With EarthCoating®, we can reduce and eliminate up to 50% of the plastic in all types of packages, flexible packaging and plastic paper coatings to name a few”, says Chris Tilton.
So the technology to reduce the use of plastic is available. What is needed for large-scale adoption?
“The packaging industry has invested time and money in plastics for decades, and hence is resistant to change. So in the end, the power lies with the end consumers because they can put pressure on the brand owners. The brand owners are now very keen on removing plastics”, says Chris Tilton.