Bioplastics breakthrough in cosmetics, agriculture and toys.

The recent NPE Plastics tradeshow held in Orlando, Florida, USA, evidenced a greater acceptance of bio-based plastics and additives as several companies launched or highlighted bio-derived materials at the show. They were putting special emphasis on the capacity of those to be environmentally friendly and health safe. In view of the evolution of the US legislation at the Federal or State level, three particular fields of application are highlighted below: cosmetics, agriculture and toys to be sucked or chewed.

Metabolix (USA) was promoting PHA as a replacement for PE and PP in microbead formulation in personal care products, and has recently partnered with Honeywell to supply the company with PHA pellets for conversion into microbeads sold under Honeywell’s Asensa product line. There are several pending legislations in the US focused on replacing synthetic, non-biodegradable microbeads as these are reportedly being flushed into marine environments, and can then be ingested by wildlife. Last month, New Jersey signed a bill that prohibits the production, manufacture and sale of personal care and cosmetic products containing synthetic plastic microbeads by January 2018. New Jersey followed Illinois in becoming the second state to pass such a measure. A bill pending in Congress could set a federal ban on the sale or distribution of such products starting in 2018. Metabolix claims that PHA beads are sustainable and degradable in water systems.

BASF (Germany) is seeing a market niche for its bioplastic Ecovio®, and has recently launched its Ecovio® F Mulch for the US market as an alternative to conventional PE-based agricultural mulch film. US farmers using Ecovio® mulch film would no longer have to retrieve the film from the field to dispose of or recycle after the harvest, and could simply plough the biodegraded Ecovio® mulch film along with what remains from the plants. This would of course save them time and reduce overall costs according to BASF. The company’s Ecovio® is a compound of biodegradable polymers, namely polylactic acid (PLA) with a copolyester Polybutylene Adipate co-Terephthalate (PBAT) a biodegradable and compostable polymer marketed by BASF under the brand Ecoflex®.

On the wubby side, several companies were promoting bio-additives to replace phthalates as plasticisers. PolyOne (USA) was presenting its Reflex™ 300 soybean oil-based plasticiser. On its booth at NPE, it was presented as plasticizer incorporated into Geon™ BIO flexible vinyl for bio-based flexible PVC used in consumer goods such as footwear and furniture applications. Right, you do not necessarily suck shoes and furniture, but your baby does when he is off your sight. You know that. PolyOne is rightly looking at other opportunities such as  medical devices and toys. PolyOne noted that demand for the bio-plasticisers is strong in North America, where companies face the possibility of product moving into California and being subjected to the state’s labelling laws. The trend toward phthalate-free products in the US is influenced by legislation like California’s Proposition 65. The same trend is also very much visible in Europe where alternative bio-plasticizers such as Isosorbide have been developed by food ingredient companies such as vegetable oil-based plasticizer – GRINDSTED® SOFT-N-SAFE by Danisco Danemark) , now part of Dupont and such as  Isosorbide branded POLYSORB® by Roquette (France ).

Just to give a bit of historical background to the story for readers who might be interested, this is how the legislative landscape has evolved since the turn of the century. In 1999, mounting concern and uncertainty over the potential health effects of selected phthalates, specifically related to children, prompted the European Union to ban the use of six phthalates in the production of children’s toys: DINP, DEHP, DBP, BBP, DIDP and DnOP.

The U.S. followed suit in 2008 by passing the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act banning the same six phthalates in children’s toys.

European authorities have further classified phthalates with three to six carbons in their backbone as Category 1B Reproductive Agents. For this reason, and based on the precautionary principle, these particular phthalates may not be used in toys, child care items or cosmetics. These same phthalates, which include DBP, BBP, DIBP and DEHP, are recognized as “substances of very high concern” (SVHC) under REACH, and are subject to authorization.

With pressure mounting from legislation, public interest groups, and the media, companies began substituting alternative chemicals for phthalates in their products. Today, non-phthalate plasticizers are growing three times faster than the rest of the plasticizer market, and represent more than 15% of the entire global market.

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