With the 2020 Sustainability Awards just hours away, we spoke with Penn Color to learn more about pennaholt masterbatch innovation.

Click here to register and watch tonight’s ceremony event live.

Congratulations on being selected by the international judging panel as a Sustainability Awards 2020 finalist! Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?

This innovative masterbatch technology (pennaholt™) for PET bottles, is the first ever 0% TiO2 masterbatch achieving levels of opacity and whiteness that would typically require around 8% TiO2 with a conventional technology

High opacity (>99.5% at 550 nm) and premium whiteness (>87L) is required, for example, by brand owners who increasingly adopt PET bottles to package their long shelf-life white milk. Conventional masterbatch technologies exploit the light scattering property of TiO2, dispersed in a plain package wall, to provide such opacity and whiteness.

Patent-pending pennaholt™ uses a mechanism completely different from conventional technologies: pennaholt™ technology generates micro-structured interfaces in the thickness of the PET bottle side wall, creating a barrier to light with high reflective power.

pennaholt™ exploits the synergy between the reflection of light on this impassable barrier and the light scattering effect of inert particles, to create opacity and whiteness, without TiO2. pennaholt™ can be used in any stretch-blow molded PET bottles and several different types of formulations are available, including variants with no particles and no minerals.

Freedom in package design and the ability to maximize shelf appeal with distinctive, iconic shapes, are among the most compelling advantages of PET compared to any other type of packaging. pennaholt™ gives the opportunity to further unleash creativity with PET package design.

pennaholt™ can provide a high gloss or a deep matte, “elevated whites” combining, for example, an off-white with a pearl effect, or any colour without limitations. pennaholt™ can even recreate the look and feel of HDPE, for brands who want to shift to PET, but who also understand that their consumers are attached to the very unique touch and effect of HDPE.

The pennaholt™ technology is applicable to both monolayer and multilayer bottles. The first generation of pennaholt™ offered the same opacity and whiteness with 50% less TiO2 than conventional masterbatch technologies, is being introduced in a large-scale consumer test in Europe for long shelf-life white milk.

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?

pennaholt™ was initially designed to alleviate the challenges faced by recyclers who reported that the increasing concentration of TiO2 in the non-clear recycled PET stream, was likely the root cause of processing issues such as filters clogging, filaments breaking for non-woven textile applications, and poor performance of the end-products.

With the 0% TiO2 version, pennaholt™ answers to a broader set of challenges. On the regulatory side, a new Classification Labelling and Packaging regulation was adopted in 2020 for TiO2 in Europe. The new CLP does not directly affect PET packages as per se, but it triggers a domino effect: under the new CLP classification, when packages with more than 1% TiO2 become waste, they fall in a category of the EU Waste directive that could make them difficult and likely cost prohibitive to recycle.

In addition, this is happening in the context of ambitious initiatives to support the Circular Economy: among those initiatives, the Single Use Plastics directive is setting the goal of 90% recycled rate and 30% recycled content in each package. This combination makes it critical for additives to be specifically “formulated for circularity”: recycling loop after recycling loop, not only additives must preserve the properties of the PET, but they need to be extremely stable to avoid the creation of undesirable by-products.

The stakes are high for circularity, and the EU lawmakers are sending clear signals: the pressure to control the integrity of the plastic recycling streams is only going to increase, because it is considered as a key enabler of circularity.

Finally, the industry has to acknowledge that consumer perception plays a key role, specifically when it comes to sustainability topics. There are many cases where lowering the concentration of a certain component would have been technically enough to follow the most conservative recommendations based on scientific data or to comply with the applicable regulation.

Instead, brands chose to launch a new product that fully eliminated that specific component. This is because of the power of “zero” on consumers: whether it is actually justified or not, “zero” is a very straightforward concept that “talks” to consumers and effectively influences their buying habits.

Regulatory changes, circular economy, consumer behaviours, …define a trend that brand owners and bottle producers need to embrace and pennaholt™ can help them get ahead of this trend.

I’d like to ask you about the broader picture beyond your successful entry. ‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?

A major misconception is that PET can shrink its way to success from a recyclability point of view, by pushing brands to make compromises on the functionalities or aesthetics of the PET packages. The largest growth potential for PET is in segments (liquid dairy, home & personal care, food) where colours and engineered packages are essential to shelf appeal and functional performance.

Our industry is proving every day, that with the right level of agility, commitment to R&D and careful listening of markets and industry needs, it is possible to design innovative solutions that bring the right answers to sustainability, without any compromise on the key attributes of PET packages.

It is critical to restore the trust of consumers, NGOs, law makers, and politicians in what our industry is capable of doing. In most cases, this will help PET play its role as arguably the most relevant solution with outstanding presence on the shelf, highest performance, lowest costs and the lowest carbon footprint.