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iPac: Developing new types of plastic packaging

iPac: Developing new types of plastic packaging

Although much of plastic food packaging is theoretically recyclable, the vast majority isn’t biodegradable. This creates the problem of persistent plastic in the environment.

iPac is developing new polymers to rival existing products; ones that can compete with the physical properties of current solutions while offering biodegradable properties.

The innovation

iPac is a thermoforming company currently operating primarily in the food sector, creating packaging from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. This packaging is 100% recyclable and contains up to 90% recycled materials.

According to iPac’s Operations and Finance Director, Jonny Catto, “Primarily, our material is rPET (recycled polythene terephthalate). We do use some polypropylene, but we’re on a 95%-5% split. PET is the most recycled plastic in the UK, so currently it is the most environmentally friendly packaging option in terms of being able to recycle it and being able to get a very high recycled content into it.”

Creating a new polymer

Alongside the Centre for Process Innovation, iPac is looking to develop a biodegradable plastic that performs as well as PET, which is currently considered to be the ‘best in class’ packaging material for most food applications.Currently in the early stages of an 18-month project, iPac is looking at alternatives to traditional polymers that are widely used across the packaging industry. The project is focusing on biodegradable alternatives to those materials in order to address the issue of persistent plastic in the environment.

The project aims to come up with a blend of existing biodegradable polymers which, when processed will perform as well as PET, but if leaked into the environment will not take hundreds of years to biodegrade, as PET does.

The future challenge

Currently, biodegradable plastics do not perform as well as PET and some solutions do not have the correct barrier products for food packaging. The new material will be revolutionary as it will be a completely unique blend of existing polymers that will be able to compete against rPET, while being biodegradable in nature.

iPac is already selling into the supply chain for all of the major UK retailers, primarily in the meat and prepared salads area.

iPac hope the new material will be a real competitor to the current polymers. As well as being biodegradable, it is hoped that the new material will also provide tangible benefits to retailers in the way that they handle their waste packaging.

Plastics Research and Innovation Fund

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund £20 million Plastic Research and Innovation challenge was announced by the Chancellor during the Autumn Statement in 2017. It will fund the development of new materials, catalysing new ideas and rapid solutions across the research and innovation landscape.

Find out more about the Plastic Research and Innovation fund.