Chalk-and-Plastic Packaging Makes the Perfect Butter Tub

Chalk-and-Plastic Packaging Makes the Perfect Butter Tub

A Swedish firm has invented a new type of material that is half chalk, half plastic. The mixture makes lightweight packaging with an extra twist: When burned, it neutralizes the acid fumes generated by waste incinerators.

“It’s beautiful,” said Per Gustafsson, managing director of Ecolean. The firm’s chalk packaging, developed from scratch in 1996, weighs on average half as much as the paper/plastic mix used in milk and juice cartons. Better still, the chalk -- a natural mineral -- can neutralize acidic soil or the fumes from incinerators when burned as waste.

Because the chalk is quarried, it also reduces the amount of energy needed to create a yogurt pot or butter tub compared with an all-plastic one, explains Gustafsson. But despite the manifold benefits of its chalk blend, the company faces a major problem -- under Swedish law, because chalk is heavier than plastic, the company pays higher environmental charges that are based entirely on the weight of packaging.

“It’s natural for harmful ingredients to be taxed, but why should the beneficial ones also be charged?” asks Gustafsson. By not distinguishing the chalk from the plastic, regulators are failing to recognize its benefits to the environment, and the company ends up paying more than a firm producing all-plastic packaging, says Gustafsson.

Ecolean paid a visit to the European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström on this very issue, but was told that packaging legislation is set at a national level. The company is now preparing to lobby the Swedish Environment Ministry, says Gustafsson.

In the meantime, Ecolean continues to sell to Russia, China, and Eastern Europe, where the packaging markets are still expanding, says Gustafsson. The company is now upgrading its machinery to meet the demands of the more established Western market, and has just received its first order from a small dairy in Finland.