Union Carbide Corp. has developed what it touts as the first post-consumer high density polyethylene resin for food packaging. Carbide officials said the market for the material, which is tailored for packaging of dry foods only in multilayer, rigid containers, now is small, but has great potential.
``Right now there are applications in health-food product packages, such as herbs, spices and dietary supplements, but we feel that the resin is a breakthrough for the use of HDPE,'' Morris Francis, Carbide's business manager for recycling, said in a telephone interview.
``We also feel that the resin will have a major impact in the personal-care product market.''
Danbury, Conn.-based Carbide has clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to use the material in food packaging, but not in direct contact with food, or with foods with surface fat content.
``So far as we can determine, the resin is the first recycled HDPE cleared for use in food packaging,'' said Bill Boyd, product technology manager for recycling with Carbide. ``The problem with all HDPE in food applications has been its permeability, which could allow contamination of some sort, but we have been able to demonstrate to the FDA that when combined with a ... layer of virgin HDPE in direct contact with the product, it gives adequate protection.''
He said the company is working on processes that could allow the resin to be used more widely, including in direct contact.
Francis said a larger immediate use for the resin could be in personal-care products that have more than brief contact with a user's skin, such as lotions and creams. Although recycled HDPE has been used in multilayer containers for shampoos and conditioners, those products are only in contact with the user for a short period.
``We feel that the resin brings value to the customer in a number of ways,'' Francis said. ``One is that it gives the package maker the alternative ability to comply with various legislative mandates for use of recycled materials, and another is that it enables the package maker to make his container out of only one type of resin, instead of having to insulate the HDPE with barrier layers of engineered plastics.
``That makes the containers easier to recycle, since the resins do not have to be separated, and easier to produce, because there is only one resin type,'' Francis said.
Francis estimated that the market for the resin could be 75 million pounds per year or more, but did not say how much Carbide will produce. The firm produces the resin at its Piscataway, N.J., recycling facility.
He said Carbide had worked closely with package makers in developing the resin and there are interested customers.
``Although the process by which we can make the post-consumer material clean enough to gain the FDA non-objection is proprietary, one of the main aspects is source control. We are using only post-consumer milk, water and juice bottles ... and we are willing to certify the compliance for customers,'' Boyd said.