Transparent film made from cellulose could help cut plastic waste
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A transparent film made from cellulose that is biodegradable and can be used for food packaging could help tackle the world’s microplastic problem.
Developed by researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the regenerated or recrystallised cellulose has been designed to replace plastic films, which are typically difficult to recycle and often end up in the wrong places after use.
“We can produce transparent and flexible cellulose film. The consumer cannot distinguish between the crystal-clear material and traditional oil-based plastic. Cellulose film can resist dampness, but in nature it disappears as completely as a sheet of paper does. The product is biobased and biodegradable,” said VTT research professor Ali Harlin.
In addition to their protective properties, transparent plastics allow consumers to see the product itself without exposing it to the air, which can lead to faster degradation.
“The cellulose film developed by VTT can replace plastic as a more climate-friendly solution. It also makes recycling easy, as it can be placed in cardboard recycling along with other packages,” said Atte Virtanen, a vice president at VTT.
England had a target to recycle 50 per cent of “waste from households” by 2020 but it only managed 44.0 per cent, down from 45.5 per cent in 2019 partially due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The VTT researchers said that the forest industry could benefit from the new product as they could produce transparent cellulose films in place of the plastics ones used today. The world market for plastic films was about $110bn (£88bn) last year.
The production of the packaging material is still in the pilot phase but it could be in extensive industrial use in 5–7 years.
E&T recently revealed that none of the flexible plastic waste that Sainsbury’s collects from its customers as part of a controversial nationwide initiative is currently recycled in the UK.
Last month, the company behind Ribena and Lucozade warned that Europe will need three times more recycled plastic if all soft drinks manufacturers are to make the switch from virgin plastics.
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