Tool steers path to plastics sustainability

BASF has announced a new software tool to help designers and company experts decide whether particular polymer solutions are truly eco-friendly or not.

The problem is far from straightforward. Prof. Dr. Andreas Künkel, Head of Research Biopolymers Biopolymers says, "Biodegradable plastics do not automatically solve environmental problems simply because they can be composted. Their use only makes sense if they are more sustainable than non-biodegradable materials at a performance level that is the same or even better. The biodegradability is supposed to create added value, for instance, by allowing organic waste to be composted rather than incinerated. After all, organic waste consists primarily of water, which makes thermal utilization very inefficient. In contrast, if the film can be composted along with its contents, this can have a positive effect on the environment."

The tool, called the "Eco-Efficiency Compass", is a web-based interface with an input mask provided so that users can combine numerous parameters with each other that are of relevance for the ecological profile of their envisaged product such as, for example, a shopping bag. These parameters include not only the selection of the packaging material – if necessary all the way down to the monomer level – but also the weight of the bag and the type of disposal technology. Thus, the entire life cycle of the product is depicted, from the selection of the raw material all the way to disposal."

At the present time, the Compass is aimed at estimating the eco-efficiency of shopping bags and foam trays. Other product groups, however, the company says, can be added quickly, such as polyethylene made from "bio-ethanol".

When we asked to access it, Dr. Sabine Philipp of BASF explained that, "This online-tool is only available via direct contact to our Ecoflex, Ecovio (biodegradable plastics) specialists. It will be used by our experts together with the customer online. So we do not distribute the link actively. It is an easy instrument but nevertheless it needs explanation and handling via a person that has some experience with it. Together with the customers we try to solve their specific questions all around the planned application".

Tom Shelley

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