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Thermoformable paper shoves PVC out the door of major retailer

The march of plastics replacing more established materials has hit a speed bump at UK retailer Marks & Spencer. That company is the first to choose a thermoformable paper alternative to plastics for sliced ham. Billerud, the supplier of the thermoformable paper, says other major retailers also are specifying the material and that other applications soon will be commercialized.


The paper, branded as FibreForm and made and marketed by Swedish packaging paper producer Billerud, is said to be stretchable and suitable for processing on standard thermoforming machinery. The paper can be stretched up to 20% during forming; normal paper has elasticity of 2-4%. In this application, a protective barrier on the paper packaging provides product safety, and preserves taste and quality, as well as the plastic tray. FibreForm is suitable to be laminated or extruded with the barrier necessary for the application.
 
In a telephone interview, Johan Nellbeck, business area director at Billerud, told MPW that the FibreForm package also has drawn interest from other major retailers, including one he would not name but which will begin using the material “in the next days.” Nellbeck said he understands from Marks & Spencer that the paper packaging’s lower cost was one of three reasons for the change from plastics to paper, with the retailer’s environmental policy and the paper packages’ tactility also supporting the shift. “The savings of plastics are huge when your replace the carrier in the packaging, the thick plastic,” added Nellbeck.

The packaging for this first commercial application was developed in a joint project between Marks & Spencer, Billerud and Flextrus; this last company, a leading European processor of thermoformable plastic film, both prints and applies a polymer barrier and sealing properties to the paper.

“The FibreForm Packaging provides a premium look to our ham and is constructed from sustainable FSC-sourced paper. It is important to Marks & Spencer to work with innovative solution providers to develop packaging for the future and Billerud has supported our innovation work through their proactive approach,” said Mark Caul, packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer, in a release. FSC certification guarantees that the raw material originates from sustainable forestry. The plastic being replaced in the ham packaging is PVC, one that Marks & Spencer has indicated it will avoid using whenever possible.

Billerud launched the FibreForm material in October 2009. “The interest is huge,” said Nellbeck. Matt Defosse

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