The packaging cost of two packs of snacks is nearly 10 yuan, the take-out packaging cost of 18 yuan of spicy hotpot is 6 yuan, and the packaging cost of 13 yuan of a cup of milk tea is 4 yuan
Recently, the phenomenon of “packaging assassins” has been hotly debated on the Internet, that is, some takeaway businesses will be packaging fees, the operating costs are secretly transferred to consumers. In fact, in addition to the higher packaging costs, disposable packaging materials are also non-degradable problems, resulting in “white pollution” will bring direct harm to the human living environment.
How to manage white pollution? Not long ago, the national key research and development program “circular economy key technology and equipment” key special project “disposable plastic packaging green alternative and low-cost manufacturing technology” project funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology, is expected to achieve green alternative and low-cost manufacturing of disposable plastic packaging.
Targeting industry pain points
The 51st Statistical Report on the Development of China’s Internet, released by the China Internet Network Information Center, shows that as of December 2022, the size of China’s online take-out users reached 521 million, accounting for 48.8% of the overall number of Internet users. Behind these figures there are countless disposable meal boxes and packing bags.
Today, disposable packaging materials are very common in people’s daily lives, especially when express delivery and take-out is so convenient. However, traditional disposable packaging materials are difficult to degrade, and can cause “white pollution” after being discarded.
Bian Xinchao, a researcher at the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (hereinafter referred to as Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry), introduced the main hazards of “white pollution” to China Science News: “The continuous accumulation of disposable packaging materials in the soil will affect the absorption of nutrients and water by crops, leading to crop yield reduction and Land slab, affecting sustainable use; land or water bodies of plastic bags are swallowed by animals as food, resulting in animal death; microplastics seep into the human body, will cause harm to human health.”
Bian Xinchao is the project leader of the “green alternative and low-cost manufacturing technology of disposable plastic packaging”. He pointed out that in the past 10 years, as China advocates green and low-carbon development, the Ministry of Science and Technology has increased its support for ecological and environmental protection materials projects, and biodegradable materials research and development and industrialization have made rapid progress. “But compared with traditional materials, the cost of biodegradable materials has been an important factor limiting their universal promotion.”
Bian Xinchao’s mentor, academician Chen Xueshi of Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, led a team that has been working with enterprises since 2000 on the development and industrialization of polylactic acid (PLA) biodegradable materials, and has established the first 10,000-ton PLA production line in China. “For the PLA key monomer propylene cross ester ‘neck’ technology, we took the lead in proposing a new route for industrialization of lactic acid one-step synthesis of propylene cross ester, increasing the conversion rate of propylene oxide monomer from 30% to more than 90%, all of which have now completed 100-ton pilot tests.”
“Through years of industry-academia-research cooperation, we found that the expansion of the industrialization scale of biodegradable materials is not the fundamental factor to reduce the cost of materials, the progress and improvement of technology is the key to solve the problem of material cost.” Bian Xinchao said that how to achieve green material preparation process and whole process environmental protection is both the industry pain point and focus of attention.
Relying on their respective specialties deep cooperation
In 2022, the Ministry of Science and Technology released a special project on “Key Technologies and Equipment for Circular Economy”, and included the project on “Green Alternative and Low-cost Manufacturing Technology for Disposable Plastic Packaging” in the guidelines. Changchun Institute of Chemical Engineering took the lead to join hands with enterprises such as Haizheng Biomaterial, Jinfa Technology and Lianhong New Material, as well as universities and research institutes such as Sichuan University, Beijing Normal University, Guangdong University of Technology and Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences to apply for the project, which was supported in November 2022.
Professor Zhou Ya of Guangdong University of Technology is the leader of the project “Biodegradable plastic packaging whole life cycle resource and environmental impact assessment”. In an interview with China Science News, she said, “We focus on the whole life cycle environmental impact and pollution and carbon reduction strategies of emerging industries such as takeaway, establish a whole life cycle inventory of polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene and other plastic packaging, and propose a control strategy to reduce 2/3 of the life cycle environmental emissions of traditional plastic packaging. “
The leader of Zhou Ya’s team is Yang Zhifeng, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Industrial ecology and green development is the team’s characteristic direction. This direction mainly applies system thinking, integrated multidisciplinary intersection method, carry out multi-system, multi-process, multi-element simulation and control, forming a “source-process-end-cycle” systematic control research system, from the system level to solve environmental ecological problems.
In 2022, the latest resolution of the United Nations Environment Assembly proposed the whole life cycle management of plastics, taking into account the reuse and recycling of plastic products at the design stage, and focusing on diversification to combat plastic pollution.
Zhou Ya told China Science News, “We have quantified China’s urban take-out waste production and life-cycle environmental emissions, and proposed an alternative solution to reuse lunch boxes, providing a new model for the green transformation of China’s take-out industry, plastic packaging waste reduction, and the construction of ‘waste-free cities’. “
Chen Ning, a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Polymer Materials Engineering of Sichuan University, is the person in charge of another project of the project, “Key Technology and Demonstration of Low-cost Manufacturing of Biodegradable Plastic Packaging”, from the team of Wang Qi, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
One of the research works carried out by Wang Qi’s team is to solve the problem of polyvinyl alcohol thermoplastic processing, so that environmentally friendly plastics can replace non-degradable materials and be put into mass production. “To solve this problem, academician Wang Qi has been persisting in this direction for more than 10 years.” Chen Ning said.
In recent years, Wang Qi’s team has successfully achieved good dispersion and high filling of inorganic nanoparticles in a polymer matrix. The team also further developed the solid-phase shear milling processing technology to realize the molding and processing of biomass straw and inorganic powder-filled biodegradable plastics, and prepared high-performance fully biodegradable plastic products.
Xinchao Bian said, “The project requires complementary strengths and strong alliances among the units, closely focusing on the set goals, and deeply integrating multiple disciplines such as environment, chemical, material and management, and relying on their respective research strengths for cooperation.”
Reduce production cost by 30%
“Biodegradable plastic packaging instead of traditional disposable plastic packaging is one of the important ways to solve ‘white pollution’, however, the promotion of biodegradable plastic faces unknown resource and environmental impact, unknown degradation mechanism, high manufacturing cost and other difficulties, and it is urgent to explore the green replacement of disposable plastic packaging and There is an urgent need to explore new methods and technologies for green replacement and low-cost manufacturing of disposable plastic packaging, and to carry out engineering demonstrations.” Bian Xinchao introduced the background of the project to China Science News.
Although the project is less than half a year old, the work of various units is already in order, and certain results have been achieved.
Zhou Ya told the reporter, “We have initially established a multi-dimensional regulation mechanism for the whole life cycle emission reduction of biodegradable plastic packaging to provide a scientific basis for the green replacement of disposable plastic packaging.”
At present, Zhou Ya’s team is docking with participating enterprises, hoping to build a life-cycle database from the industry scale. “During the research, we found that there is a lack of basic data, and we hope to build a life cycle database of biodegradable plastic packaging in China to promote green and low-carbon sustainable development.”
Chen Ning’s team is responsible for the research and development of inorganic powder high filling technology for multi-component biodegradable plastics, which has been accumulated for many years. He told reporters, “We will collaborate with enterprises to improve the performance of packaging products while reducing material costs.”
Bian Xinchao introduced that after the completion of the project, four industrialization demonstration projects will be built, including 150,000 tons/year propylene cross ester production line, 150,000 tons/year PLA production line, 50,000 tons/year carbon dioxide based biodegradable plastic production line, and 10,000 tons/year modified biodegradable plastic production line.
However, he also admitted that there are still a series of challenges, such as purity of key materials, localization of equipment, optimization of key catalysts, development of high-performance products, and incomplete clarification of material degradation mechanism, and many other problems, which still need to be tackled one by one.
“Our final production of biodegradable packaging film is expected to reduce the production cost by more than 30% compared with similar products in the market.” Bian Xinchao revealed that the low-cost biodegradable materials are expected to take the lead in promoting the application of shopping bags, disposable tableware lunch boxes, disposable straws, paper cups and other fields.
(Originally published in China Science News 2023-04-17 Page 4 Transferred Transformation)