Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology in Germany are developing a compostable packaging tape that can be disposed of cheaply and creates less waste.
And the company working with the team, Logotape, believes that if oil prices continue to rise and manufacturing costs can be brought down, then the it could ultimately be possible to sell this new 'organic' packaging tape for about the same price as conventional products.
The development is therefore perfectly in tune with current packaging trends.
For example, manufacturers under increasing pressure to tighten margins have identified waste as a critical cost area. It can cost up to €100 to dispose of a metric ton of plastic waste by incineration and about €60 if it is dumped at a landfill site.
If money can be saved on waste disposal, then organic packaging tape could soon become commonplace.
There is the obvious environmental aspect as well. Used plastic wrappings and containers are a major contributor to packaging waste, and are still dumped in huge quantities on landfill sites, but this is changing.
In the UK for example, where landfills have been extensively used to dispose of both hazardous and non-hazardous wastes cheaply and easily, legislation is being put in place that will greatly affect waste management. The number of landfills licensed to deal with hazardous waste in England and Wales will drop from 200 to 10 in mid July, which will have a significant impact on the ability of business to dispose of their wastes.
"But there is another alternative - composting - that costs half as much as landfill disposal," said Dr. Ulrich Wesselmann, managing director of LogoTape , a company that manufactures self-adhesive tape products.
His company has teamed up with researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen, Germany to develop an entirely biodegradable packaging tape that, moreover, is made mainly from renewable resources.
High oil prices, which has a knock-on effect on the price of petroleum and natural gas-derived raw materials such as benzene, also provides a window of opportunity for alternative packaging materials. Packaging manufacturers have been squeezed this year by chemical firms passing on the costs of higher raw materials.
The price of benzene for example, which is used to make styrene, has now reached historically high levels. Prices have been rising steadily since the start of the year, and are now double what they were six months ago.
But in order to be competitive, the product needs not only to be environmentally friendly and cheap, but also highly applicable. Indeed, the team behind the project are conscious that the new compostable tape needs to meet the same requirements as present-day packaging materials.
"We have to achieve the same mechanical properties, initial adhesive force and tear resistance that customers expect from 'normal' packaging tape," said Carmen Michels, who works in UMSICHT's renewable resources department.
"Other requirements include durability and printability. Unfortunately, the compostability requirement is not immediately compatible with many other technical properties."
For instance, the tape has to be highly resistant while in use, but break down rapidly as soon as it is thrown on the compost heap.
Michels claims that the compostable tape is particularly appropriate for use when the rest of the packaging material is also biodegradable, allowing the whole unit to be disposed of without separating individual materials. The UMSICHT researchers have therefore developed a granulate for a compostable film in collaboration with a private company, FKuR-Kunststoff.
"The new material has met with considerable interest on the part of manufacturers of polyethylene film, because it offers comparable mechanical properties," said Michels.
"A further advantage for the plastics processing industry is that the film, which consists of a combination of polylactic acid and polyester, can be processed in the same way as conventional blown film."
Under normal conditions, the composted film breaks down to half its weight within about four weeks. The compostable film is already being marketed under the name Bio-Flex 219F.