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June 20, 2018updated 21 Feb 2019 9:56am

Will fibre become the new plastic?

As the war on plastic continues, the race to find its replacement is also heating up. The latest contender could be Durapulp fibre, which is used to create a new biodegradable packaging to replace the black plastic trays often used in ready meals and raw beef products.

By GlobalData Consumer

As the war on plastic continues, the race to find its replacement is also heating up. The latest contender could be Durapulp fibre, which is used to create a new biodegradable packaging to replace the black plastic trays often used in ready meals and raw beef products.

The producer, Finnish packaging manufacturer Huhtamaki, has been trialling Durapulp fibre in the UK ready meal category for the last month. The company hopes that the trial will eventually lead to the adoption of biodegradable packaging in ready meals. But why are black plastic trays causing such headaches, when like other plastic products they are technically recyclable?

Colour is the main issue. While black is used because it makes pack contents stand out better and appear more attractive on shelves. Optical sorting equipment in recycling facilities has a lot of trouble detecting black packs and most of the time fails to do so. According to a report conducted by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), most black plastic ends up in landfills rather than being recycled.

Plastic alternative 2019: phasing it out

Several UK-based companies such as Quorn Foods and Waitrose have identified this as an issue and are looking to phase out black packaging despite the high costs involved. Waitrose is looking to phase it out completely by 2019 with Quorn Foods looking to do the same by 2025.

The main problems facing manufacturers of new packaging materials are the cost of manufacturing and how well the pack can last. Plastic was always the perfect solution, being cheap with a long life cycle – albeit too long. Although these packaging trials will highlight the usefulness of the packaging material in practice, ultimately the potential adopters of new packaging materials will always asses how well the new material delivers in these two key areas. If the new pack isn’t cost effective to produce at the same time as offering a long enough life cycle, it will not be adopted – even if it is more environmental friendly.

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