Most food products we purchase in discount outlets or convenience stores are packaged with containers made of chemical-based plastic or film. As consumption of such containers has surged exponentially for they are affordably priced and easy to use, they have become one of the dominant causes of environmental pollution worldwide, which has positioned ‘environment-friendliness’ as one of the primary mandates to be delivered by the chemical industry at all cost.
SKC which is an industrial material vendor affiliated with SK has continued to invest in environment-friendly solutions since the onset of the 2000s. As a result, SKC succeeded in developing Korea’s first biodegradable PLA film in 2005 as well as commercializing the world’s first PLA film intended for food packaging applications in 2009. Let us learn about the PLA film that can be used in the same way as conventional film products are used while drastically reducing environmental pollution.
Question 1: How does SKC make PLA film?
PLA (Polylactic Acid) film is made from starch obtained from natural plants such as corn, sugar cane, cassava, and the like. Lactic acid gained from specially treated starch is polymerized into biodegradable resin which is then transformed into PLA film by the x/y axis-stretching process. Finished PLA film can be buried underground after consumption and will fully biodegrade (100%) into the soil in a short while.
* X/Y axis-stretching process: a film-manufacturing process that produces significantly flexible, exceptionally strong, and highly printing-compatible film products.
Question 2: How is PLA film biodegraded into soil?
Biodegradation is defined as a process where a certain substance is degraded by microorganisms into water, carbon dioxide (CO2), and soil nutrients. The Earth is rife with a wide variety of microorganisms some of which can biodegrade even chemically synthesized plastic materials. However, few microorganisms have been found to be capable of biodegrading conventional chemical plastic materials, and, if any, they are excruciatingly slow in biodegrading such materials. That is why it takes several hundred years or even longer to degrade plastic products.
In contrast, SKC’s PLA film made from a corn-extracted ingredient has high biomass content and it is biodegraded in just 100 days at the most when it is buried in soil that features favorable compositing conditions (high temperature and high humidity) for rapid growth and activity of microorganisms.
Question 3: What sets PLA film apart from conventional plastic film?
Chemically synthesized plastic film is cheap, delivering functionality that can upgrade our quality of life. However, conventional plastic material causes environmental pollution and destroys the natural ecosystem. It is also broken down by water and UV ray into very small microplastics, posting health hazards to human beings. On the other hand, biodegradable PLA film can be a solution to issues spawned by plastic waste.
As most chemical materials are derived from petrochemical products, they use and emit an enormous amount of carbon when manufactured and disposed of. This carbon emission threatens the survival of mankind by aggravating global warming effects and thereby accelerating climate change. Yet, PLA film is based on natural plants that have absorbed a lot of carbon and reduces carbon footprint from manufacturing and disposal processes by 70% when compared with conventional plastic. PLA film can contribute to making the Earth more sustainable by reducing the greenhouse effects fueled by carbon emission.
Question 4: How is PLA film used?
PLA film finds extensive applications in packaging materials that we often use. However, it is costlier than conventional plastic and requires the traditional packaging material manufacturing process to be transformed, thus constraining market penetration. Nonetheless, as business organizations pay increasingly more attention to environmental issues and social values, PLA film is being used as packaging material for fresh foods and more diverse foods.
Starbucks Korea’s packaging and Shinsegae TV Shopping’s eco-friendly icepack packaging based on SKC’s biodegradable PLA film.
PLA film is also being used recently as packaging material of non-food items such as drinking straws, dishware, periodicals, and the like. As an alternative to conventional paper coating chemical agents, PLA film is also used as laminating material for paper-based shopping bags, packaging boxes, trays, etc. PLA film is expected to find more applications in packaging materials of long-term storage foods such as snacks or instant noodles as well as laminating materials for a variety of cards (credit cards and ID cards).
Efforts to create environment-friendly social value
SKC’s PLA film that returns to nature once it is buried underground is a good alternative to plastic vinyl that pollutes the environment. SKC is committed to delivering further upgraded PLA film products and prospecting for more customers with continued focus on R&D initiatives and lessons learned from trials and errors. In addition, the company is spearheading the development of the PLA film market by proactively responding to changing customer requirements through development of PLA film manufacturing processes more optimized in terms of film processing temperature, processing speed, and other factors. Furthermore, SKC plans to build a platform connecting a variety of stakeholders in biodegradable solutions.
SKC is ramping up business competitiveness by bolstering up its marketing pitches of eco-friendly products such as eco labels intended to address the difficulties with PET bottles recycling and PCT film products designed to reduce the weight of automotive cables and thereby contributing to better fuel mileage. We are rooting for SKC in its efforts to deliver greater social value with eco-friendly business initiatives and making the Earth, our collective home, a cleaner place.