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Metabolix's PHA Latex Coatings to Replace PE Plastic Layer on Disposable Coffee Cups

Published on 2014-05-28. Author : SpecialChem

Every morning, millions of people stop into their coffee shop of choice and walk out with a much needed cup of coffee. At that time of the day, what we care most about is the contents of the cup, and probably don't give much thought to what the cup is made of, beyond "paper." After finishing that hot cup of coffee, if you were to take a moment to consider the cup, you might notice that the inside surface has a slight shimmer to it, the shimmer of a plastic or latex coating layer.

Typically made of polyethylene plastic (PE), that thin layer of plastic means the cup cannot be composted and the paper that was used to make it can only be re-pulped with great difficulty into post-consumer paperboard. What that means is that in most cases these cups have no destination but right into a landfill.

What's more, paper cups generally cannot use recycled or post-consumer paper because of potential contamination issues. Coffee shops are making small steps: Starbucks, for example, does use 10 percent post-consumer paper in its cups, but cannot go higher due to issues of contamination as well as degradation in quality, i.e. the ability to hold liquid. Paper cups are almost always made of new material and, while certainly a more sustainable option than Styrofoam, they are far from a closed loop solution.

Metabolix, are piloting a developmental PHA paper coating to replace the PE plastic layer on disposable coffee cups. Its R&D team has developed an innovative aqueous PHA latex technology that can be dispersed as a very thin, moisture-resistant barrier coating on paper using standard coating equipment. This PHA latex coating has broad applicability even beyond paper cups to replace difficult-to-recycle synthetic coatings for paper, paperboard and corrugated cardboard packaging that are currently based on polyethylene and wax. Most of the world's produce is shipped in wax-coated cardboard boxes which are effective for transporting the wet produce but bring problems for the repulpability and recyclability of the underlying corrugated paperboard.

The Metabolix latex replacement is derived from renewable raw materials and, like other PHA products, is uniquely compostable and anaerobically digestable while performing comparably to the PE coating it is designed to replace. It is also generating data to show that the product will be compatible with, and degrade in the re-pulping operations commonly used to recycle paper and corrugated cardboard.

It would be remiss to side-step the ultimate sustainable choice of using a reusable mug for that daily coffee fix, but the implications of replacing difficult-to-recycle coated paper cups with an easy to recycle option could be a big step towards a more sustainable cup of coffee.

About Metabolix

Metabolix, Inc. is one of the bioplastics technology development and commercialization companies founded in 1992. Metabolix develops biobased solutions and provide alternatives for plastic, chemicals, and energy. The company's headquarters is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 2006 Metabolix has been a publicly traded company. Metabolix develops and commercializes high-performance PHA biopolymers targeted to the markets for film and bag applications, performance additives and functional biodegradation. The company opened an office in Cologne, Germany in April 2012 and is currently focused on expanding its business in the European bioplastics market.

Source: Metabolix

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