The end of the plastic era

The days of petroleum-based plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are numbered. All the leading companies in the plastics industry are investing in bioplastics made from renewable biomass sources. In development is an environmental-friendly alternative to PET, the polymer PEF (polyethylene furanoate), which is anticipated to enter the market place in 2020 and is expected to become the ideal material for packaging food, beverages, and non-perishable items.


Eleven industrial companies joined to establish the PEFerence Consortium in order to create an innovative value chain for bio-based resources that extends to PEF-based materials as well as chemicals. The project is supported by a €25m grant from the European Joint Undertaking on Bio-Based Industries (BBI), an EU-wide public-private partnership that is funding innovative bio-based research with an allocated budget of €3.7b that extends to 2020.


Meanwhile the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT) has developed a market-mature process that can be used to transform lignin and hemp fibers into the environmental-friendly bio-material Arboform©, which is lighter and even more resilient than some plastics. Lignin, a natural polymer, is generated as a byproduct during paper production. Its yearly production amounts to 50m tons world-wide. So far, it’s mainly used for energy generation in incineration plants. By heating up lignin powder and hemp fibers, a thick woody solution is generated, which can then be refined to perform with off-the-shelf injection molding machines. With this fiber-reinforced plastic, premium products can be produced that rival polymer plastics in tensile, crushing, and bending resilience.



Current bioplastic production makes up less than one percent of the entire yearly total of more than 30m tons of plastic. While the combustion of plastic waste releases large amounts of climate-harmful carbon emissions, the decomposition rate of bio-plastic waste is 450 years. Throughout the world, 20,000 plastic bottles are sold each second, and most of them will end up either in a landfill or in the ocean. The broadcaster Sky TV illustrates this with a ten-meter long whale created out of the exact amount of plastic that is dumped into the ocean every second of every minute of every day. According to a study made by the MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in ocean waters.



For this reason, Sky TV decided to ban single-use plastics on their company premises, in the supply chain, and in products by 2020. At their German headquarters in Unterföhring, disposable coffee cups have been replaced by porcelain ones; plastic bottles by glass carafes. The discontinuation of single-use plastic will also take effect in warehouse logistics, point of sale, and production sets. Sky’s Acht Tage series is its first green production, which is followed by the crime series Der Pass.


The reorganization also involves Sky’s manufacturer of receiver boxes as well as refurbishment service companies throughout Europe and Asia. „In order to support companies and start-ups that are developing technologies for the discontinuation of single-use plastics in the supply chain, Sky is starting the Ocean Rescue Innovation Fund“, says Carsten Schmidt, Chairman of the Board, Sky Germany. „Ocean Rescue has been funded for five years, and will have a £25 m budget.“

Photos: © Sky Germany, Fraunhofer IAP

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