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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1103

Top-Talk Photo Danone,

Top-Talk Photo Danone, headquartered in Paris, France, is the world’s leading producer by volume of fresh dairy products, selling a total of 5.1 million tonnes in 2009. Just recently Danone GmbH from Germany launched their famous fermented dairy product Activia in new PLA cups (see page 32). During interpack bioplastics MAGAZINE spoke with Rainer Barthel, Head of R&D Packaging Central Europe. Photos: Benita Zabel (2), Philipp Thielen (1) www.danone.com bM: Mr. Barthel, the new PLA yoghurt cup for Activia is not the first approach of Danone into bioplastics. A couple of years ago, you launched a product in bioplastics packaging in Germany. What was that all about? RB: The product also was a yoghurt, which was newly introduced, called ‘Jahreszeit’ (German for ‘season’). It was a new product launch in 1998 and it was packaged in a PLA cup too. bM: And why did it disappear again ? RB: I think in those days it simply was too early for this kind of concept. The concept was quite complex and the consumers did not fully perceive the advantages and the necessity. And in addition it was a new product launch. Today with our firm conviction we decided to convert Activia, which is one of our biggest and most important products in Germany, to a PLA cup. From a technical point of view the PLA packaging concept itself worked perfectly well during the whole period and the project was not stopped because of the packaging concept, but because the new product never achieved significant volumes. bM: Why is Danone so strongly engaged in using a bioplastics packaging material? RB: It is one of our goals to contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gases. We think that we, as a large company, have to continue to do so on our way to the future. Over the last three years we had a close look at our value chain in order to identify the screws that we can turn to reduce the greenhouse gases, and the biggest screws for us are indeed logistics, production and packaging. During the process of determining the CO 2 emissions we saw that the contribution made by the packaging, surprisingly, was in the region of 15 to 20 per cent. Even I had thought it was a lot less, so this is indeed a significant factor that we can influence. bM: What were the reasons for deciding to convert the packaging of exactly the product Activia to a cup made exactly of PLA exactly at this point in time? RB: Activia, as it is one of our biggest and most important brands in the German market, we want to set an example – express our commitment - not with a niche product but with one of our flagship products. This is a first step for us, further steps will follow. Why PLA? Because it is a good material to convert thermoformed containers to ones made from renewable resources. And ‘exactly now’ was a decision that was made a year and a half ago. During this time we worked hard on the project to make sure that Activia ends up at our consumer’s table in a perfect quality. And PLA is a good material for this purpose. bM: Is Activia available in other countries – and in PLA - as well? 14 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/11] Vol. 6

Top-Talk Danone Reduces Carbon Footprint RB: Activia is available in 68 countries around the world. The fermented yoghurt helps regulate your digestion and in Germany it is market leader of all fruit yoghurts. With the PLA cups we did a first step here in Germany. By the way, Stonyfield Farm yoghurt is a Danone product too, and in the USA it has been available in PLA cups for a few months already. bM: What is for you, as the brand owner Danone, more important: the renewable resources or the biodegradability? RB: Clearly the renewable resources and the reduction of the greenhouse gases. And we are quite precise when we say that from our point of view the composting of yoghurt cups does not bring us any ecological advantages. Any kind of collection, sorting, recycling (use- cascades) or recovery gives more added value ecologically than composting does. So for the time being, when the volumes of PLA cups or products in general are too small for recycling, we prefer to collect and incinerate our cups with energy recovery. We clearly would like also to encourage other producers of packaging to use PLA, so that as quickly as possible significant volumes get into the market and PLA-to-PLA recycling becomes ecologically and economically feasible. bM: We are all aware of the price difference between PLA and in this case polystyrene. How do you handle the raw material cost issue? By the way what is the weight of one PLA cup? RB: Of course we hope that our market introduction and what I just said will contribute to increasing the market volumes of PLA and thus bring the cost further down. In discussions about cost you often hear that PLA is three or four times as expensive as conventional plastics. As a matter of fact, this is wrong. A PLA cup as well as a cup made from PS weighs between 3.8 and 4 grams but we are working on a further reduction of the weight. bM: What do you think, or do you have any experience, regarding whether consumers would be willing to pay a few cents more for a product when they know it is environmentally advantageous? RB: As a matter of fact, we bear the additional cost ourselves. We did not and will not increase the price of the product due to the higher PLA material costs. bM: Which priority does this whole topic have in the Danone group? RB: Basically for three years our overall target in this respect is to reduce our overall CO 2 emissions by 30% by the year 2012 (cf. 2008). All kind of projects are welcome to achieve this goal. bM: How do you see the role of the political aspects and legislation in Germany, Europe and in general here? RB: In Germany we have the packaging directive that offers some privileges for compostable packaging. This is not helping us as a brand owner really very much as we do not consider composting as an advantageous end of life option for our yoghurt cups. We as a brand owner would much more appreciate seeing new regulations that promote significantly more the use of renewable resources for materials. bM: Last question: What is the future of bioplastics from your point of view? RB: I’m convinced that bioplastics will see a further strong growth. What we see at interpack is proof of a significant development. This is being confirmed by what for example Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, Henkel and many more are doing. We see that all big producers are aware that it is necessary to convert to such materials in order to shape our future. For me it is important that discussing packaging is only a part of it. The bigger topic from my point of view is renewable energy. It is more than converting a yoghurt cup from PS to PLA. It is rather to switch from materials made from fossil resources to materials made from sunlight and CO 2 from the atmosphere. bM: Thank you very much. bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/11] Vol. 6 15

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