The plastic challengers

Sulapac’s drinking straw is produced from wood and plant-based binder resins and processed on conventional extrusion lines

Materials based on natural fibres may replace some plastics altogether in areas such as packaging, hygiene products, building materials and textiles, according to the Finnish research institute VTT. Its Piloting Alternatives for Plastics project brings together a range of Finnish and international companies to take materials developed in the VTT laboratories towards more industrial production (the three-year project began in April and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, VTT and 52 participant companies). Pilots are being carried out at the VTT centre at

Jyväskylä, where the organisation claims to operate the world’s first foam-forming production line, which employs an aqueous foam (rather than water) as the carrier medium for the fibres when forming parts. Using renewable cellulose and fatty acids, VTT is developing a thermoformable material — Thermocell — that it hopes to apply in food packaging. Arla Foods, Paulig and Wipak are cooperating in the project. Final application of the Thermocell material will depend on how companies want to use it, says research team leader Jarmo Ropponen. “It is suitable for many purposes for which fossil-based plastics are currently being used. Thermoplastic cellulose, i.e. cellulose that can be moulded using heat, can be processed in conventional plastic treatment processes. Like plastic, the material can be refined into packaging films and bulk commodities.” Sulapac is another Finnish company aiming to tackle the issue of plastic waste by developing alternatives. Founded in 2016 by biomaterials specialists Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rasasa- lo, its portfolio includes 100% biodegradable plant- based compounds that can be converted on existing plastics processing machinery (mostly

injection moulding but also extrusion). One of the company’s latest launches is a drinking straw that is already used in Finnair’s lounges in Helsinki and by food delivery platform Wolt and alcoholic beverage brand company Altia. The straws are also available for consumers online from outlets such as and Verkko- The main components of the straws are wood and plant-based binders. They are produced using extrusion machinery originally designed for plastic straw production with only minor die modifications and are intended to be recycled via industrial composting (the design is undergoing EN13432 certification). Sulapac has developed its own compound recipe for the straws; Helsinki-based Stora Enso, a manufacturer of pulp, paper and other forest products, provided support in product development and business development. Sulapac CMO Antti Valtonen says in its current

variant, the 0.3mm wall thickness of the straw means it is heavier than a typical PP alternative but third party LCA suggests additional transport costs will be outweighed by reduced GWP per unit due to sourcing and lower processing energy require- ments. Stora Enso also has its own biocomposite

portfolio — Durasense. The materials are a blend of wood fibres and polymers (virgin, recycled or bio-based) and are said to be suitable for a wide range of applications extending from consumer goods to industrial applications. The materials can be processed by injection moulding, extrusion, and 3D printing. � � �



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