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June 03, 2020

Tackling the war on plastic waste with mineral-based formulations

Platy minerals and barrier formulations offer an alternative to single-use plastic in food and drink packaging.

Barrikote

Did you know that most paper cups you get from coffee shops or the office canteen are not entirely made of paper and cannot be recycled? 

These cups contain a thin inner coating of polyethylene material or wax to stop moisture – hot or cold liquid – leaking through or dripping out of the sealed edges. Every year, 16 billion paper tea and coffee cups are used once – and thrown away. The plastic layer means that less than 1% of these can go into standard recycling waste streams, and new cups are made from virgin material – felled trees, rather than recycled paper.

The impact of plastic waste on the environment is nothing short of devastating. Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced, half of which are for single-use applications, such as coffee cups – and more than eight million tons of it end up in our oceans.

Of course, plastic will remain a critical commodity and, for some items, alternative materials cannot be used. Some single-use applications are necessary. In healthcare and medical research, for example, items such as syringes, sample bags, surgical instruments and gowns are used once to avoid cross-contamination.

However, as consumers, we are becoming increasingly aware of the need to recycle more plastic – and avoid it altogether if it is not essential. 

Replace the plastic in paper cups with minerals to make them recyclable

Through manufacturing innovation, brands are responding to this societal pressure – to increase the reusability and recyclability of their products and help customers make better choices about their plastic consumption. Supermarkets are changing the way they package goods. Food and beverage manufacturers have stated their ambitions to provide products in fully recyclable and reusable packaging within the next decade.

Around the world, governments and lobbying groups have proposed levies on disposable cups, bans on single-use plastics, or legislation for all paper coffee cups to be recyclable within the next few years.

Minerals can help meet this challenge. Imerys supplies minerals and/or formulations of polymers and minerals that allow this polyethylene lining to be completely removed and replaced with a recyclable, repulpable barrier product. 

Platy minerals talc and clay – “platy” because their crystal form is thin, flat layers – are spread across the fibre surface, providing sufficient coverage to act as a sealant. This reduces the amount of special polymer needed to give full barrier properties to an amount small enough that the cup would be recyclable using the existing paper recycling infrastructure; the cups are recyclable and repulpable like regular waste magazine or cartonboard, no need for them to be isolated in a specific waste stream.

Imerys’ Barrikote range provides the most appropriate mineral and polymer formulation for any barrier effect.

While integrating non-polyethylene solutions is technically challenging – few manufacturers have the right equipment – the world is steering the food and beverage market in that direction.

This is a macro trend – there is a growing awareness that plastic doesn’t disappear. Clearly plastic has its uses, but increasingly there will be opportunities where we can manage effectively with alternatives that are recyclable or biodegradable. In almost any application – especially single-use – manufacturers are thinking "Can we replace this with an environmentally friendly solution?"
Andy Findlay
Technical Support Director, Paper and Board at Imerys

Talc Mineral Food & Beverage Paper & Board
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