European countries are estimated to be the largest consumer of dairy products in the world, according to the data provided by FAO in 2011. While high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles are used quite often to package the dairy products, it's estimated that only about 10 to 15 percent of the packaging is recycled, according to data from 2012.
In an effort to reduce waste and increase recycling rates, the Technological Institute of Plastic (Aimplas) out of Spain is coordinating the research carried out by seven companies and technological centers to develop new materials to manufacture biodegradable packages for dairy products. The project is called Biobottle and its aim is creating multilayer and monolayer plastic bottles, as well as bags to package dairy products, which do not require separation from the rest of organic wastes at the end of its lifespan.
Since milk bottles and bags can only be used once, a big volume of waste is generated. In addition, Aimplas says that a high temperature washing is required in its recycling to eliminate any waste of products and subsequent odors. This is why the researchers behind the project believes it's an added value for the manufacturers to throw away dairy packaging with the rest of waste. Aimplas and the rest of the Biobottle's partners are working on developing a biodegradable material that will allow the manufacturing of big multilayer bottles or bags, such as the ones for milk or milkshakes, as well as the monolayer bottles, which are smaller, used to package probiotic products.
One of the main difficulties of the project is getting a biodegradable material that complies with the same requirements than the traditional packages used, including the resistance to thermal treatments such as the sterilization or pasteurization. For this, it is expected to modify the current commercial biodegradable materials through the reactive extrusion to overcome the thermal limitations in the current biodegradable ones available in the market.
Biobottle is a European Project in the Seventh Framework Program, with a funding of €1 million ($1.36 million). Seven companies and technological centers from five different countries are working with Aimplas: Germany (VLB), Bélgica (OWS), Italy (CNR), Portugal (VIZELPAS y ESPAÇOPLAS) and Spain (ALMUPLAS y ALJUAN).