What is a bio-based stretch film, and does it work?

As with many plastics, traditional stretch wrap is made from the polymers found in crude oil. Crude oil is a non-renewable resource and there are many questions around it’s sustainability. Bio-based stretch films, however, are made from the polymers found in plants (sugarcane is one of the the most common source of biopolymers). As well as drawing on renewable resources, which makes it a more sustainable option, this also reduces the carbon footprint per kg by over 40%.

Do bio-based stretch films work?

Yes. They perform almost identically to traditional stretch films.

We worked with one of the UK’s leading sugar producers to successfully implement a bio-based pallet wrap to help them meet their environmental goals. The result for our client was not only improved sustainability credentials but a reduction in the weight of film used to wrap each pallet, from 173g to 62g (a saving of 64.2%). This was achieved without any performance related issues such as pallet instability or snapping.

If it is so effective, why don’t more people use it?

With a much lower carbon footprint and high performance, it may seem as though bio-based stretch films are the future of pallet wrapping. However, there are a few things to consider:

  • The cost.

Bio-based pallet wrap is considerably more expensive than traditional films. This is because the process to extract the polymers is much more complex. However, as technology improves allowing production to become more efficient, the cost may reduce.

  • Lack of knowledge.

Many people have concerns around the performance of bio-based films. This is because there is limited knowledge around the product and the fact that it actually has performance and puncture resistance comparable to regular stretch films.

  • Environmental concerns.

Although bio-based plastics may appear to be more sustainable, there are questions around whether the farming of the sugarcane crops is environmentally friendly. The concerns are that the cultivation of crops for bioplastics will increase land use and therefore contribute to deforestation, habitat destruction and competition with food crops. In addition, large scale agricultural production of feedstock crops also requires significant quantities of fresh water which could lead to water scarcity and pollution if not managed properly. To counter this, our bio stretch films are made from tall oil. This is a by-product of the kraft process (the process of converting wood into pulp, predominantly for paper production) so therefore it avoids the issues described above. The disadvantage of this is that tall oil has a much lower yield than sugarcane and tall oil requires a more complex process to convert into bio plastics.

  • Limited end-of-life options.

Bioplastics cannot be recycled in traditional plastic recycling streams and require specific conditions for proper recycling. These conditions are not widely available which leads to waste management challenges. There is also the risk of bioplastics contaminating the traditional plastic recycling streams, making it harder to separate and recycle any plastics effectively.

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