SME based in the south of France uses biomaterials to replace plastic

How do you replace plastics made from petrochemicals with environmentally friendly material? Researchers and manufacturers offer innovative solutions to this problem. Vegeplast, a company based in the south of France, specialises in biodegradable products made from cereals.

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" Europe helped us to make progress in our research and carry out the investment necessary to develop our sustainable production – the transformation of cereals into biodegradable plastics, meaning that what comes from the earth goes back to the earth. Furthermore, Europe provides a label that instils trust in our other partners "

Vincent Pluquet, founder of Vegeplast

Vegeplast produces biodegradable items from agricultural material. With support from Europe, it developed two products which are widely used, every day, all around the world: food packaging trays (Vegepack) and coffee capsules which are compatible with Nespresso machines. These bioplastics offer a real alternative to the plastics produced by the petrochemical sector. Made of plant matter, they will end their life cycle as compost, being turned into fertilisers.

Reactive extrusion

Based in Bazet, in the south of France, Vegeplast uses maize and wheat as its raw materials, which are sourced in the local region. The process of manufacturing products from agricultural material, developed by the company in association with the Toulouse Agro-Industrial Chemistry Laboratory from 2003 onwards, consists of injecting biodegradable bioplastics into moulds. The process (reactive extrusion) is obtained by blending the cereals to turn them into pellets, which are then placed into moulds specially designed for each product. This innovative, ecological sector is flourishing. The company now employees 45 staff and devotes 15% of its turnover to research and development.

Food packaging with hot prospects

Compliant with European standards (EN 1342), Vegepack trays offer an alternative to plastic food packaging. They are particularly well suited to sensitive fresh products, such as meats, cheeses and desserts. In addition to food, the new material developed during this innovative project could also lead to other types of packaging products, for example in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

Coffee capsules made to measure

Biodegradable coffee capsules, which are compatible with Nespresso machines, are another set of products supported by the ERDF. At the request of its partner, the Ethical Coffee Company, Vegeplast undertook a major investment programme to equip itself to produce 2 million capsules per day. This market represents a major growth opportunity.

These capsules are unusual in that they can be sold empty. They are fitted with a cap which the consumer can lift to fill the capsule with their choice of coffee. The cost of an individually chosen espresso then becomes noticeably less.

Total investment and EU funding

Vegeplast benefitted from European support for two projects:

The "Vegepack, food packaging trays" project amounts to EUR 462 803 and the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) contribution is EUR 140 000 for the 2007-2013 project programming period. The "SME support contract, coffee capsules" project amounts to EUR 1 134 364 and the ERDF's contribution is EUR 340 000 for the 2007-2013 project programming period.

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