Uflex has developed a sustainable solution that was briefly presented at the recent PackPlus Conclave in New Delhi that was co-organized by Reed and IppStar. The company’s continuous research to make plastics totally biodegradable and neutralize their harmful effects has led to an enzyme-based technology which, quickly breaks down the molecular PE chains and biodegrades polymers back into harmless components like water, biomass, and carbon.
The Flexzyme technology
The Flexzyme technology uses a complex of specific plant-based peptides and enzymes, infused into the polyolefins or polyesters, in the process of making the multilayer plastics. Flexzyme biodegrades plastic through bacterial, microbial action, moisture and heat. Polymer chains are broken down by the enzyme and bacterial processes under certain environmental conditions. The polymer/MLP will significantly biologically-degrade within a few months dependant on the prevailing conditions at the end of life. They undergo a change in their chemical composition when exposed to natural conditions.
Flexzyme Technology fundamentally changes the mechanical and chemical properties of materials which lead the end product to safely biodegrade into CO2, water, nitrates and biomass in a few months instead of hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. Uflex states, “Our bio-degradable product enables polyethylene, polypropylene and polyester to decompose both in atmospheric conditions and under soil or compost, thereby releasing CO2, water and biomass.”
Biodegradable or compostable polymers are generally recognized as those which are designed to truly or significantly ‘biologically degrade’ through the action of living organisms. Only naturally occurring bio-chemical agents are employed to produce these biodegradable materials. These constituents react with most plastic types including LDPE, PP, and PET. Uflex claims that this is highly cost-effective, eco-friendly and most importantly a non-hazardous technology, with applications primarily for making, multi-layer packaging, carrier bags, polyethylene liners, mulch films, or any flexible packaging films.
The mechanism and design (active switch) of the technology emphasizes final product stability in use as normal but, for the product to then biodegrade (if required at end of life). Both processes are fundamentally opposites in scale and contradictory. However, in this advanced technology the activation switch process, demonstrates the conditional mechanism and start of the biodegradation process.
When does the process start?
Uflex’s target is to standardize modified polyolefins and polyesters without compromising their basic mechanical properties and key attributes of longevity. Flexzyme technology must not be confused with or does not rely on photo-reactive processes, such as the addition of chemical metal salts (oxo-degradable).
The Flexzyme mechanism is only activated under certain aerobic (or anaerobic) environmental and microbial conditions – namely in soil, landfill, compost or anaerobic digestion (AD). As such, the activation mechanism prevents any premature biodegradation of products in use, thus allowing the reuse and recycling of any modified product.
Flexzyme is infused into polyolefins to biodegrade the polymers. The concentrations and dosage percentages will affect the speed and rate of biodegradation.
Plastics products containing Flexzyme technology are food safe, certified according to US FDA Standard number 177.152.
Enzyme mediated polymer does not activate until it touches the soil ecosystem, composting or the environment. Therefore, the ingredients will not affect a product either in the warehouse or its on-shelf life. Finished products will not be affected by premature biodegradation.
Flexzyme is suitable for use in LLDPE, LDPE, HDPE, polypropylene and PET.
Flexzyme is based on organic ingredients only, contains no heavy metals or genetically modified crops and is 100% non-toxic
Plastic containing Flexzyme can be recycled along with conventional plastic. The recycled material would then not be rendered biodegradable.
Flexzyme-infused polyolefins/polyesters have a much longer life and are therefore reusable. The desired additional benefit only applies, when it is required. Uflex says that other biodegradable bio-plastics become brittle after a few months.
Flexzyme-infused polyolefins/polyesters can be recycled in the recycling stream with normal conventional plastics, unlike bioplastics which would contaminate and lead to a poorer quality of the secondary raw material.
Flexzyme-infused polyolefins/polyesters are cost-effective compared to other biodegradable plastics.
The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of conventional polyethylene/polyester improves through biodegradation. Consequently Flexzyme-infused polyolefins/Polyester has a lower ecological impact than other bioplastics.
Contrary to some other bioplastics, Flexzyme-infused polyolefin/Polyester contains no plasticizers.
Flexzyme has no effect on the food chain and food or commodity speculators. The price is not influenced by weather or harvest speculation.
According to Uflex, Flexzyme-infused polyolefin/polyesters are the only product in the market that covers every possible waste scenario. Uflex adds that other bio-degradable options have limited end of life options.
In addition to ISO 17556 & ultimate biodegradability in soil, other relevant standards include:
Compostable packaging (includes ecomtoxicity, heavy metal and biodegradation)
Biodegradation in soil (includes eco toxicity, heavy metal, biodegradation and disintegration)
Compostable plastics (includes eco toxicity, heavy metal and biodegradation)
Recycling of plastics
No substance of very high concern, following the EU regulation about chemicals
Soil bacteria identification during biodegradation
ISO 5402 & ISO 5403
Increase in total microbial and fungal count (CFU/g)
*The above is an edited version of a note by Jeevaraj Pillai, joint president, Packaging & New Product Development, Uflex. It was edited by Naresh Khanna editor of Packaging South Asia.