PLA: a solution to improve the end of life of food packaging

Today, a lot is said about plastic and how it is responsible for using fossil resources and polluting oceans. Alternative with less impacts exist. Polylactide acid (PLA) is a biobased and industrial compostable polymer that can be suitable for food contact applications. Today, PLA can be found in many food packaging applications such as rigid packaging with trays, pots or bottles or flexible packaging for film production.  It is 100 % produced from corn, sugar beet, or sugarcane depending on the area where the production plant is located. It has also a specific end of life compared to conventional plastic as it can be compostable in industrial composting facilities.

PLA has a lot of advantages when it comes to its processing and its properties. It can be used on conventional plastic equipments like injection molding or thermoforming. It is a rigid and transparent material that could be considered similar to PET and PS on some aspects. Nonetheless, PLA can be brittle, has a low heat resistance (around 55°C) which can be limited for some applications and has barrier properties inferior to those of conventional polymers which can be an issue when it comes to packaging applications.

NaturePlast has been working for several years on the adaptation and optimization of PLA’s properties so as to expand its use. Through its R&D lab, several compounds have been developed into notably two ranges of materials:

  • High temperature range: compounds based on PLA with an improved heat resistance (around 110°C). The aim is to increase the thermal stability of PLA through crystallization by increasing crystallization speed during processes cooling steps and thus decrease production cycle times.

  • Soft range: compounds based on PLA where PLA has been softened. The objective is to make PLA less rigid in order to adapt it for applications where more flexible materials are needed.

To achieve these results, PLA was mixed with different biodegradable polyesters, additives as well as plasticizers. These improvements give PLA new fields of application such as technically complex shapes or microwaveable packaging.

Within the SISTERS project, NaturePlast will participate to the development of new packaging for the food industry with the goal to improve the end of life of PLA by making it home compostable thanks to our partner Carbiolice. Indeed, they have developed an enzyme which can accelerate the biodegradation of PLA. With this solution, consumers will be able to dispose their PLA packaging like film, yoghurt pots, trays for example in their domestic compost.