Finding the perfect eco-plastic: A supplier’s journey to the perfect sustainable solution

There are positives and negatives surrounding all eco-materials; but how does a packaging supplier discover what works best? InduPlast Packaging Group’s Maurizio Pagani talks Cosmetics Business through the process

While plastic may once have been maligned in the media, brands across all industry segments are realising that the responsible use of the right kinds of plastic could pay off in terms of both environmental impact and consumer appeal.

But what kind of eco-plastics are on the market, and which are the best for use as cosmetic packaging? Cosmetics Business went to one company working with such materials – Italy’s InduPlast Packaging Group – to find out more.

One option offered by InduPlast Packaging Group is sugarcane-based bioplastic.

“We use a unique source for our sugarcane derived plastic,” Maurizio Pagani, the Group’s R&D and Account Manager, tells Cosmetics Business. “There are several different grades of plastic made totally, or partially, from sugarcane protein. We mainly use high density polyethylene (HDPE) with which we manufacture bottles, jars and containers using blow-moulding technology for the cosmetics industry.”

Pagani adds that this material is “well appreciated” by InduPlast Packaging Group clients, who are using it.

The green HDPE material is sourced by InduPlast Packaging Group from Braskem in Brazil, the country with the world’s largest sugarcane production.

“Braskem is an important player in the petrochemicals industry, so it also makes plastics from fossil fuel,” explains Pagani.

“We consider the material to be safe in terms of respect of nature and people based on documents which Braskem has shared with us, where they state that they do not use freshly cut forest territory, but only land which has already been used for agriculture for quite some time. They claim not to use underpaid or slave labour and this is also supported by third-party certification.” This issue is very important for the ethical values of our company.

Unfortunately, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, sourcing has been unusually difficult in recent times.

A frequently asked question about the sugarcane-biobased plastics is how to ensure that the material actually is derived from the sweet stuff and not from standard fossil fuel, so that there can be assurance of its origin and justification for its higher cost. The answer lies in the content of Carbon-14 in the plastic.

Pagani notes that Braskem has been helpful in this respect, supporting InduPlast Packaging Group on several occasions arranging for carbon-14 analysis of its bottles to obtain certification that they were in fact made with the proper material.

High density Green PE material is the most used in manufacturing, InduPlast Packaging Group also keeps 100% sugarcane low density material in stock “because, if needed, we can blend them up to make softer bottles”.

The company has experimented with other grades and has used injection moulding technology for Jars and Closures, but the slightly different shrinkage percentage in the manufacturing process with respect to standard plastic meant there would be the need for some tool modification. So, at present the supply is mostly used in extrusion blow moulding for Bottles.

Pagani tells Cosmetics Business that the company has looked at other materials from different suppliers, some of these had variable contents, up to 30%, of constituents from sugarcane or starch chemistry, but observed that “these were not appealing enough to our customers, because a claim of only a partial content from renewable resources is not perceived as adequate".

It has had some successes experimenting with the bioplastics Mater-Bi from Novamont, as well as those supplied by Roquette, Cereplast or Rotuba although not without some difficulties along the way.

InduPlast Packaging Group were eager to test these new materials who represent an important step forward in the sustainability issue. Striving towards a cleaner future for plastics, they may find interesting applications in several products.

Unfortunately, the tests highlighted one major problem with those bio-based plastics, which are also biodegradable or even compostable. These revealed their poor qualities in protecting the cosmetic formula, because of their “limited barrier properties” and tendency to interact with all elements in contact with the plastic, and even with the product they are supposed to contain and protect.

They are therefore not always the ideal choice. The Group can of course help Brands understand the best options and opportunities for their range of products.

InduPlast Packaging Group considered production of coextruded packaging, with conventional HDPE on the inside layer to provide support and safe contact with the ingredients and the external part made from the starch-based plastic. However, as with most multi-material products, Pagani notes there is an issue with: “The regrinding and the final disposal, as they would be mixed and difficult to handle and reuse again.”

Recycled materials

Pagani proposes that a very viable option is the use of Post-Consumer-Recycled Plastics, especially when it comes to recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET).

R-PET, he says, is widely used by InduPlast Packaging Group “because it is, so far, the only recycled plastic guaranteed to be food grade and there is a safe recycling chain, which can also guarantee continuity of quality and availability”.

He adds that the company has thoroughly tested it and is actually using a fair quantity of recycled HDPE too, but stresses that it “has some limitations, because only some R-HDPE is food grade”.

That said, he tells Cosmetics Business that InduPlast Packaging Group has “found a good recycled [HDPE] material, which can claim a non-objection letter from the FDA; it’s not food grade, but they can certify that it has a very high-quality standard”.

He says a number of customers are happy to use this, further noting that he’d seen demand for recycled materials increase dramatically in the past ten years, forgoing the “not-so-perfect” aspect that can derive from using recycled plastics. This has actually grown to be an asset, rather than a defect both for sales and marketing purposes.

“There is a better sharing of the importance of reusing plastics and I think that marketing specialists can also start to see the importance and value behind recycled packaging.”

So, while finding the perfect eco-plastic solution is still a work in progress, it is a journey that packaging suppliers and raw material providers seem happy to share with their clients.

Featured Companies

InduPlast Packaging Group (more information, website)