We’ve been keeping an eye on how captive audiences at major sporting events and concerts can serve as laboratories for new sustainable packaging systems and materials—general these tend to be foodservice packaging systems. That’s why it piqued our interest when we heard that a F1 race in November had marked the first time a major global sports event used compostable bioplastic beer cups. That’s according to Gaia Biomaterials, who created the substrate, and Happy Dolphin, a converter of “plastic-free” bags, utensils, and packaging who made the cups. At the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 150,000 beer cups made of emerging compostable substrate biodolomer were used in place of traditional beer cups in order to keep waste, microplastics, and CO2 to a minimum.
"It's a fantastic sign of recognition to have been chosen by such a prestigious event,” says David Hughes of UK-based Happy Dolphin. “The cups are very durable and stable and are suitable for printing. They can be collected along with food waste and put straight in an industrial compost. The result will be soil that is very high in minerals.”
Industrially compostable materials are uniquely intriguing for these sorts of closed-system events, usually in ballparks or other venues where collection efforts can be concentrated to a single location, without much spillover into the communities around the gates. These sorts of locations can be incubators of ideas like industrial compost before the wider, municipality-based infrastructure is in place to make them practical. Industrially compostable packaging could contaminate mechanical recycling streams if an uneducated public were to try to recycle them, and wouldn’t degrade in your flower garden the way backyard compostable materials would.
Biodolomer, devised by Swedish material tech company Gaia Biomaterials, is a bioplastic primarily made from natural minerals and vegetable oils. It comes in granules and can be used in most plastic production methods. It has the same characteristics as plastic – but is compostable, very durable, and does not leave any micro plastic or plastic pollution. Biodolomer is used for everything from grocery bags to cover film for agriculture. It is 100% compostable, CO2 neutral and does not result in any microplastics, the company says. "This a fantastic opportunity for us to show the world what our material can do, And that it is possible to totally eliminate plastic waste", says Peter Stenström, CEO of Gaia Biomaterials.
The beer cups used in Abu Dhabi were developed by Happy Dolphin in order to be suitable for major events. They are sturdy, which reduces foaming from beer taps, and can be printed on all sides. Two different measurements are embossed in the cups.
“They are extremely robust”, Hughes adds. “We’ve stepped on them, hit them with cricket bats, sat on them and they just wrinkle and can be put back in shape – ready for a refill. The only thing that broke them was when we ran them over with a car.” PW