The development of a biodegradable polymer system that is claimed to have the same strength characteristics as an ordinary plastics polymer may mark a breakthrough in the use of biodegradable plastics packaging in the pharmaceuticals market.

Speciality chemicals manufacturer Robinson Brothers of West Bromwich worked with Aston University, process equipment manufacturer ThermoPrism and GlaxoSmithKline to develop biodegradable bottles and blister packs.

The project involved developing a plasticiser to work with Cargill Dow’s poly lactic acid polymer (PLA). It is said to provide the same physical properties as normal plastics polymers in combination with the PLA. This has been an area of weakness for other biodegradable polymers, says RBL polymer research and development manager Dr Chakra Borty.

A further advantage of RBL’s patent pending polymer system is that it can be processed in conventional extrusion equipment, as well as offer enhanced biodegradability.

The polymer will mineralise in 60 days in compost. It will biodegrade in landfill at temperatures of 42deg C.

The company is also working with Euro Packaging to produce carrier bags for supermarkets and sacks and packaging for B&Q. A food contact polymer system has not yet been developed.

RBL is aiming for a production run before the end of 2003, prior to full scale commercialisation as part of RBL’s Robac product range.