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Issue 01/2023

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  • Automotive
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  • Editorial
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  • Sustainable
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Highlights: Toys Automotive Basics: Amorphous PHA Digital product passports

Basics The year of

Basics The year of amorphous polyhydroxyalkanoate Amorphous polyhydroxyalkanoate (aPHA) isn’t widely known yet, but that is about to change. Corporate interest in addressing the problem of plastic waste is higher than ever, being driven by consumer demand and new regulatory requirements. The unique qualities of aPHA introduce new end-of-use scenarios for plastic, which has prompted industry leaders to consider it as a solution to the plastic pollution challenge more than they ever have before. As explained in an article in bioplastics MAGAZINE [1] early last year, aPHA is a softer, more rubbery version of PHA that offers fundamentally different performance characteristics than the crystalline or semi-crystalline forms that currently dominate the PHA offering in the market today. It is certified biodegradable under industrial compost, soil (ambient), and marine environments and is considered home compostable – meaning that it does not require specialized equipment or elevated temperatures to fully biodegrade. The brief history of aPHA Amorphous polyhydroxyalkanoate technology was introduced almost a decade ago by Metabolix, Inc. (acquired by CJ CheilJedang in 2016). Responding to market interest, scientists at Metabolix started working to find a biopolymer that could address the deficiencies of more crystalline PHA and other polymers, including polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). These other polymers are brittle and can be difficult to process, while PLA, specifically, has a relatively low glass transition temperature that makes it fairly unstable for high-temperature applications. Blending and compounding aPHA with these other biopolymers, researchers started to see the benefits aPHA introduced – improving both the mechanical properties and the processability of these other biopolymers while maintaining the bio-content and improving end-of-use management of the articles they would be used to create. As aPHA was introduced to those in the industry tasked with addressing the challenges of disposing of plastic, aPHA quickly built a following. Industry advocates immediately noted that aPHA could be used to make films less brittle, improve the impact resistance of injection moulded parts, that it is a terrific modifier for biopolymers, and could also potentially replace petroleum-based modifiers. While interest in aPHA was high, the ability to meet demand was very limited due to production capabilities, which stunted growth in the technology for the next several years. CJ CheilJedang saw the possibilities of aPHA, and with the conglomerate’s ability to quickly scale production, they acquired the technology from Metabolix and began making inroads into numerous markets. aPHA makes its move While it comprises just a small fraction of the overall universe of plastic manufacturing, aPHA production is on the rise and starting to make headway in the industry. Currently, there are literally hundreds of trials being conducted in numerous markets – from film manufacturers to injection moulders to companies making fibre for woven and nonwoven (diapers, wipes, etc.) materials – to determine the usefulness of aPHA in various applications. These trials are recording high success rates, which will lead to greater adoption in the coming years. The big drivers in interest for aPHA and PHA technology are new environmental regulations and the fact that many brands are under the gun from consumers to be more environmentally responsible. Today’s consumers are incredibly conscious about packaging, and every time they purchase something in a package, they think about the environmental impact it has. They are very vocal about the changes they want made and are putting pressure on brands to clean up their act. They are tired of greenwashing and want to see real progress. Brands are taking this feedback and are working with their suppliers to address it by coming up with solutions that will help. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division has introduced industrially compostable bags for its “Off the Eaten Path” brand vegetable snacks. The materials used for the snack bags are made from non-food, plant-based sources; producing them creates 60 % lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional packaging. Cove, a California materials company, is making the first entirely biodegradable water bottle using PHA. Cove’s PHA is being supplied by multiple manufacturers coming together to create unique PHA compounds tailored to the innovative application. Meanwhile, in December 2022, CJ Olive Young, a marketleading health and beauty retail chain in South Korea, introduced new cosmetic packaging developed with aPHA technology. Their WAKEMAKE Water Velvet Vegan Cushion uses vegan cosmetic ingredients, in addition to its eco-friendly biobased packaging to cater to the growing market of consumers seeking more environmentally friendly beauty products. In addition to these products, bioplastics manufacturer NatureWorks has also announced plans for the aPHA product. NatureWorks started developing solutions using PLA more than 30 years ago, and they have seen that aPHA can improve the ductility of PLA. In 2022, they announced 58 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/23] Vol. 18

Basics that they had entered an agreement to collaborate on the development of sustainable marketing solutions based on their proprietary Ingeo biomaterials technology and aPHA. The goal of the program is to develop high-performance biopolymers that will replace fossil-fuel-based plastics in applications ranging from compostable food packaging and food serviceware to personal care and other end products. Looking ahead The market trends and recent advancements involving aPHA outlined in the section above are setting the tables for a momentous 2023. While interest in aPHA is at an alltime high, the scale of production over the coming year will not be able to meet the increased demand, so the focus will be on applications where the value of aPHA is the highest. This includes rigid and flexible packaging, which accounts for more than 50 % of single-use plastics, along with other markets where aPHA is already making headway – food and beverage packaging, nonwovens, and serviceware. Entry into the compostable bag market is also on the horizon. People are using compostable bags to dispose of yard waste, but the bags currently being used are not strong enough or do not compost fast enough, which aPHA can help address. Looking beyond 2023, one of the big opportunities for aPHA will be in replacing the polyethylene coatings that are currently used in the food and beverage industry for coffee and other drinks. People want to recycle these cups, but it’s hard to recycle or repulp cups coated with polyethylene, not to mention that polyethylene prevents the natural biodegradation of paper if the article ends up in the environment. aPHA can be used in combination with other biopolymers to make these cups recyclable, but testing will need to be completed before that can happen, meaning implementation and market penetration will come later. As interest in aPHA continues to grow, the industry will need to expand the production volume value equation. This will allow for the use of PHA in an expanding portfolio of opportunities at higher volumes with improved economics. Government action is also needed to put PHA on a level playing field with petroleum-based polymers. According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the cost of plastic to the environment is at least 10x higher than the market price paid by primary plastic producers, which generates significant external costs for countries. Over its estimated lifetime, the cost of plastic produced in 2019 alone will be at least USD 3.7 trillion [2 ]. Greenhouse gas emissions created by plastic account for more than USD 171 billion in costs, based on estimates by the WWF, while collecting, sorting, disposing, and recycling of plastic will cost another USD 32 billion [2]. With its inability to breakdown completely, plastic will incur further costs to the environment, with the WWF stating that “The plastic produced in 2019 that becomes marine plastic pollution will incur a cost of USD 3.1 trillion (+/ – USD 1 trillion) over its lifetime as a result of the reduction in ecosystem services provided by marine ecosystems. There are also additional costs incurred from clean-up activities”. [2] When aPHA is sold, the associated costs are baked into the product, putting it at a competitive disadvantage with petroleum-based plastics that come in at a lower price point, but involve the postproduction costs outlined in the paragraph above. A model piece of legislation that should be followed is SB54 out of California, which has the greatest opportunity to introduce meaningful progress with plastic pollution. SB54 bans single-use plastics in the state, but it goes further by promoting and supporting new technology – like aPHA – that promotes compostable material recycling (earth recycling). The relatively new legislation looks to fund ways to recover these materials to turn them into downstream energy sources – so the idea is to not only ban products but to create an infrastructure to promote the circularity of compostable material. The introduction of new comprehensive legislation similar to SB54 will help lead to greater adoption of more ecofriendly plastic manufacturing solutions and spur innovation to create new technologies that haven’t been thought of yet. [1] Thielen A.: New amorphous PHA product line, bioplastics MAGAZINE 03/2022 [2] DeWit, Wijnand, et al., “Plastics: The Costs to Society, the Environment and the Economy”, Dalberg Advisors, World Wildlife Foundation website, By: Max Senechal Chief Commercial Officer and Senior Vice President CJ Biomaterials Woburn, MA, USA bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/23] Vol. 18 59

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