Sponsored content: BioLogiQ’s new biopolymers offer more sustainable packaging solutions, the company says, warning brands against stifling innovation in the pursuit of a ‘wonder material’
The damage that mismanaged waste plastic can cause to the environment has rarely been off our screens in recent years. From waterways clogged with plastic bottles, to fields strewn with flapping plastic bags, and marine life struggling to cope with a plastic invasion, there is a dark side to this incredibly versatile material, the properties of which have also changed countless lives for the better.
While more efficient recycling and greater awareness of how to dispose of and re-use waste plastic are an important part of the solution, there has also been a clamour for a new material, something that has all the attributes of plastic but which won’t linger in the environment for hundreds of years.
It has become the ultimate prize but according to Bruno Pereira, chief sustainability officer at the Idaho technology startup BioLogiQ, while the push for this new wonder material is understandable, the pursuit of “perfect or nothing” can also stymie innovation.
Most brands want to migrate to the ideal alternative in one shot. Such an environmentally perfect plastic simply doesn’t exist
“Society is becoming more and more concerned about some aspects of plastic,” he explains, “and this has made brands start looking for a more environmentally friendly alternative which, on the face of it at least, creates great incentives for innovation companies like ours.
“But most brands also want the ‘perfect’ solution right away; they want to migrate to the ideal alternative in one shot. Such an environmentally perfect plastic simply doesn’t exist. Waiting for ‘perfection’ can lead to paralysis and get in the way of broader yet smaller improvements that are more readily available.”
Different plastics have different properties, and all have their place, from packaging to building products and medical supplies. In terms of plastic pollution, the more durable plastic that turns up in cars or window frames, is not the challenge, explains Pereira. “It’s single-use products where we can improve, and packaging in particular. And this is where we can have the biggest impact.”
BioLogiQ’s mission is to make plastics better and to make the market for plastic more sustainable. The company manufactures a bioplastic resin called NuPlastiQ which can be turned into a thin but strong plastic film that is ideal for flexible packaging. It’s made by blending 100% natural, plant-based materials at rates of between 10-30%, with so-called “legacy resins”, like polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.
The biopolymers are made from starch and glycerin, giving NuPlastiQ a carbon-neutral footprint, while retaining all the unique properties you expect of a plastic. Blends can either be recyclable, using plastics such as polyethylene or polystyrene, or compostable using biodegradable polymers. Some are also marine biodegradable.
“In essence we combine materials and improve them,” says Pereira. “They still work perfectly, and do the job for which they were intended, but with a much-reduced carbon footprint.”
Chasing the perfect solution can mean we pass up some great technology and potentially game-changing ideas on the way
NuPlastiQ first came onto the market in 2017 and was used to develop a more sustainable bag for fresh potatoes, with plant materials replacing 20% of the traditional plastic. The company initially received backing from the local farming community, who worked with them to find a use for the by-product from their potato processing operations. Today, more than 25% of grocery stores in the US sell potatoes in bags made from BioLogiQ resin.
Another BioLogiQ customer in Japan produces a compostable agricultural film that can be used for mulching, which improves soil productivity by locking in moisture. The plastic can simply be incorporated into the soil once it starts to biodegrade.
“NuPlastiQ is not perfect, no material ever will be,” says Pereira. “But it is a significant improvement and we’ve shown that it’s both commercially and economically viable.
“Because it’s so flexible, and can blend so well with mainstream plastics, the potential is huge,” he adds. BioLogiQ is now talking to several global brands that are looking to reduce the carbon footprint of their packaging.
“What technologies like NuPlastiQ need are companies that are willing to give them a chance, help them to market and support the innovation process,” continues Pereira. “Without them NuPlastiQ would never have flourished and we would have been dismissed as an impossible technology. Early adopters are our true heroes.”
“We need corporations to start embracing new technologies that can help the transition to something more sustainable,” he says. “But we shouldn’t be set on the perfect solution; it’s unattainable and chasing it can mean we pass up some great technology and potentially game-changing ideas on the way.”
Just like early phone photography, getting to better plastics require brands’ willingness to adopt promising technologies
Take the first camera phones, he says. It was an exciting new technology but far from the high- quality product so many of us take for granted today. But brands launched anyway and that early adoption supported the development of the technology.
The same can be true of plastic, he says. “Just like early phone photography, getting to better plastics require brands’ willingness to adopt promising technologies, ideas that are far from the finished article but which, without support, might never survive the development stage.”
Perhaps now, more than ever before, companies and corporations have a vital role in nurturing startups, he says. “NuPlastiQ has already passed the ‘tipping point’ but hundreds of other new businesses might be dying just for lack of support.”
He urges companies to pick a technology that sounds promising and work with the company to take it to market. “That process can do wonders. Before you know it, what was once just a promising idea has become part of the mainstream.”
BioLogicQ NuPlasticQ bioplastics