Canadian Plastics

Quebec thermoformer pioneers

Biodegradable plastics are leading to increased business for Tilton Plastic, a thermoformer of food packaging in Saint-Augustin de Desmaures, a suburb of Quebec City.

November 1, 2006   Canadian Plastics



Biodegradable plastics are leading to increased business for Tilton Plastic, a thermoformer of food packaging in Saint-Augustin de Desmaures, a suburb of Quebec City.

In April 2006, Tilton started up an extrusion division, and became the first company in Canada to extrude sheet from corn-based PLA (polylactic acid), a biodegradable and compostable resin. The new division, called Exton, is located within Tilton’s plant, which was expanded from 45,000 sq.ft. to 65,000 sq. ft. The sheet is made on a Welex extrusion line that was specially designed to run PLA.

Tilton is sourcing its PLA resin from NatureWorks LLC and is using a grade approved for food contact by the Canadian Food Safety Inspection Agency.

One of Tilton’s customers is a major manufacturer of cookies under both its own brand name and under private label for Loblaws, Sobeys and several grocery chains in the U.S. This cookie company sources all of its cookie trays from Tilton and uses many millions of trays a year.

Tilton had been supplying trays thermoformed from polystyrene to this cookie company, but then they showed their customer trays made with the new PLA resin. “They were amazed with this new technology,” says Frdric Noel, Tilson’s sales manager. The clarity and rigidity were good, as were the impact tests. As of November 2005 the customer switched all of its cookie trays to PLA.

Initially, Tilton purchased PLA sheet from an outside source. Feedback on the new PLA cookie tray was positive. That positive reaction made Tilton comfortable in making the investment to extrude its own PLA sheet. At present, Tilton is extruding PLA sheet only for its own use, but it has future plans to explore other resins and offer sheet on the market.

In addition to the cookie trays, Tilton has also developed a custom-made PLA tray for a packager of tomatoes

REASONS TO GO GREEN

Tilton began to look at getting into PLA several years ago. “At that time, there was a price difference of about 30 per cent between the corn-based resins and traditional resins,” says Noel. “But with the price increases we’ve had in the last year, PLA is now more appealing. It’s still more expensive than polystyrene or PET, but our customers are willing to pay the extra price. With the pressures that they have from their customers, they are willing to make a step towards a green environment.”

Europe is five to ten years ahead of us, according to Noel, but now major retailers in North America are starting to demand biodegradable packaging. For example, in the fall of 2005, Wal-Mart announced that it intended to move all of its product trays to PLA. Another impetus to “go green” in Tilton’s home province is Recyc Quebec, a provincial government program started in 1998 that mandates a 60 per cent reduction in solid waste in Quebec by 2008.

Tilton sees good growth ahead for PLA packaging and has a plan in place for expanding this part of its business. “Our first step was to secure a major customer,” says Noel. “Our next step will be launch our own line of stock products.”

The new stock PLA packages, tradenamed Biogo, will be launched in the spring of 2007. They will be aimed at applications such as produce, deli, and disposable items for food service.

At present, the PLA trays made by Tilton come in only two colours: clear and brown. However, Tilton has found an American supplier of PLA-based color masterbatches and intends to expand its colour range for PLA packaging in the near future.

In addition to colour, heat resistance has been a limiting factor in the growth of PLA. At present, PLA can only be used at temperature up to 50 degrees C. This means that it is not suitable for microwavable trays.

EARLY ADOPTERS

Tilton Plastic was founded in 1985 and specializes in thermoformed packaging for the food industry. The company moved in 2004 into its new facility specially designed to meet the quality control standards of the food industry. It has its own tooling shop.

Tilton thermoforms packaging on a custom basis for a number of major food processing companies. It also makes stock packaging sold through distributors.

Tilton has a history of being an early adopter of new technology. It was one of the first companies in Canada to thermoform CPET (crystalized PET) when that resin came on the market about 18 years ago.

As a medium-sized company, Tilton has both the resources to explore new technologies and the ability to move quickly.

“It’s important for us to be fully integrated from tooling, to sheet extrusion, to thermoforming,” says Noel. “When you’re serving the food industry, you have to react quickly to market changes.”

In summing up his company’s “PLA decision” he says:

“The plastic industry was hit very hard in the last years by several resin price increases, due to different elements that we all know. In fact, everything related to petroleum resources won’t be the same anymore.

At Tilton PLastic, the management team stepped ahead a few years ago, by looking for an alternative to traditional oil-based plastics. Price increases were not the only issue. More and more customers were asking questions about recycling and environmental matters.

As a plastic manufacturing company, we understand that the years to come will be difficult. Government legislation and environmentally conscious consumers will put pressure on our industry. By offering environmentally friendly solutions to our customers, Tilton PLastic is showing its willingness to drive into the mainstream of ”Good corporate Citizen”.


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