Danimer Scientific’s biodegradable resins attract Frito-Lay and other brands

Garry Kohl, senior director R&D, snacks category, global packaging innovation - ‎PepsiCo, detailed a startling goal at last month’s The Packaging Conference when discussing specific Frito-Lay initiatives to develop packaging that’s better for the environment.Frito Lay biodegradable bag structure

Kohl told the audience that the company’s "Holy Grail" quest of a 100% biodegradable film was made possible by incorporating polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a naturally occurring polyester, into the flexible packaging structure (shown above).

Why PHA? “It’s the only material certified for marine degradation,” he responded.

“Our goal is to develop packaging that [truly] disappears in the ocean,” Kohl explained. “We’re even looking at biodegradable packaging that you could flush down your toilet.”

According to Kohl, the brand has been working with Danimer Scientific (Bainbridge, GA) for more than seven years on that potentially game-changing development (see  Frito-Lay’s bioplastic ‘Holy Grail’, published by Packaging Digest March 2018). PlasticsToday reached out to Danimer Scientific and connected with Richard F. Ivey, Jr., marketing manager, for more about the Frito-Lay development and what they see happening in biodegradable bioplastics.

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Danimer Scientific pilot plantTell us about Danimer Scientific’s work with PepsiCo/Frito-Lay.

Ivey: Our relationship with Frito Lay/PepsiCo started 7 to 8 years ago.  One area of focus is developing a 2nd generation compostable chip bag, utilizing materials that are available in the market today.  Partnering with Frito-Lay/PepsiCo has also allowed us to expand our pilot-plant production of PHA.  This has allowed us to focus on developing fully biodegradable resins that can be brought to market once our first commercial plant is commissioned.

Kohl identified a goal of 2021 for a market test of what he called the Holy Grail of packaging: PHA-based packaging that’s certified as marine degradable. Can you comment on that statement? Danimer biodegradable film

Ivey: Danimer Scientifics’ Nodax PHA received the first ever OK Marine Biodegradable certification from Vinçotte International (Brussels, Belgium), validating that the biopolymer safely biodegrades in salt water environments, leaving no toxins behind. Nodax PHA possesses seven Vinçotte certifications and statements of industrial and home compostability, biodegradability in anaerobic, soil, fresh water, and marine environments, and is bio-based.  In addition to creating value to brands for its sustainability benefits, it also provides performance properties that are better than many biopolymers available today.

What’s the level of interest in bioplastics and what’s driving that?

Ivey: In recent years, we have been contacted by many brand owners interested in evaluating bioplastics as replacements for traditional polymers.  Awareness of plastic pollution and the harm it does to our environment are driving consumers to push for more sustainable solutions.  A good example of this is the drinking straw regulations that have been popping up in local areas (see The last straw for Malibu, published March 2018).  Danimer Scientific can help companies develop a product that will perform to their specifications while helping to protect the environment.

Danimer bioresin pelletsAbout what portion of your resins or materials are intended for packaging? 

Ivey: Approximately 65% of our current business centers around packaging applications.

What’s your most popular product for packaging? What’s your newest?

Ivey: Our most popular material for packaging is our PLA based extrusion coating resin. This resin is able to run on existing production equipment at speeds comparable to traditional polyolefin.  It also provides better melt strength and adhesion than neat PLA.  The newest packaging related product we have commercialized is our line of compostable injection molding resins that can withstand high temperatures.   

What’s happening now with projects and where are things heading?  

Ivey: We cannot comment on specific projects except to say that we are focusing a lot of attention on developing PHA based products for use in the food packaging industry.  Consumers are starting to demand sustainable products and we feel that we are uniquely positioned to meet those demands with PHA in the near future.  In the meantime, we also offer many compostable resins that can help companies meet their sustainability objectives today.

What else would you like PlasticsToday readers to know?  

Ivey: Over the years, we have learned that there are very few stand-alone biopolymers that can be a drop in replacement to traditional plastics.  We have developed a large toolbox that we can use to create formulations that meet a customer’s requirements.  Whether it be through an existing resin, a customized formulation or an extensive R&D project, we can help customers find sustainable solutions that separate them from the competition.  We can also work with companies to do custom compounding and formulating on a tolling basis.

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