Single-use products and packaging are used throughout society. We expect them to be durable and protect other products, e.g. food. The most common plastic and paper materials have many benefits, but they make up a significant proportion of the waste we generate.
Ecolean has developed ecologically-sustainable food packaging. The company is replacing as much as possible of the original, fossil oil-based material with a natural material – chalk. The benefit is a drop in the use of fossil oil and a reduced impact on the environment. Chalk is a fine-grained limestone which is easily reduced to a powder. Limestone is formed from the shells of coral, mussels, seashells and other sea creatures made from chalk (calcium). When the organisms died, the shells sank to the seabed, where they formed thick layers of shells and chalk sludge. Eventually, the material hardened into limestone, or cal- cium carbonate. This process is continuing in the sea even today.
You could say that the ”packaging” of the sea creatures is transformed into new food packaging by Ecolean. A packaging material known as Calymer TM is made up of at least 40 percent by weight of chalk, as well as the plastics polythene and polypropylene. The plastics bind the material and make it durable and flexible. The calcium carbonate provides strength and stiffness. Ecolean packaging weighs 40 – 45 percent less than the equivalent cardboard packaging and 60 – 65 percent less than plastic packaging. Ecolean’s ”soft bottle” is a fluids packaging in the form of a self-supporting bag – the packaging is available in two versions, and is used for products such as milk and yoghurt. The difference between the two versions is that one features a stabilising handle filled with air.
Ecolean has commissioned comparative lifecycle analysis of the environmental impact of the packaging. These have shown that Ecolean’s packaging uses less energy and water, generates less waste and has less impact on the environment than the most common packaging materials in the food industry.
Ecolean is a young company, but it already has sales offices in six countries, and sells its products in over 30 countries. The concept is being rolled out into the fierce competition of the global food industry. The company’s products have not yet conquered the world’s industries. The material and packaging system is relatively expensive when compared with traditional packaging. As environmental issues become more and more important, Ecolean expects the company’s products to win a greater share of the market. The company does not sell the packaging material itself, but markets the finished packaging solutions and filling machines. The idea is similar to Tetra Pak’s business concept in that the knowledge content of the whole system is increased, which generates greater income. This is not, perhaps, all that surprising, since the principal shareholder is Hans Rausing, one of the founders of Tetra Pak.
This article was first published in Advantage Environment printed in February 2008