HelMet libraries will stop coating books with plastic and move to plant-based film

From now on, the libraries of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area will coat their books with plant-based bioplastic, which does not contain fossil-based materials. The libraries will move to the more environmentally-friendly material as new materials are coated and once the old plastic reserves are used up. 

At the same time, they are studying how many books can be left uncoated for environmental reasons.

Bio-coating similar to plastic

Coating the books prolongs their service life and thus reduces their environmental impact. However, using plastic to coat the books is an environmental issue. Until now, there have been difficulties in finding a sufficiently high-quality plant-based replacement for plastic. 

The new material now in use, the matte bioplastic produced by the Finnish company Pelloplast looks and functions much like the previous plastic material. 

The bioplastic consists of plant-based film made of sugar cane ethanol The film is made of completely renewable raw materials and does not include any fossil materials. In addition to this, the water-soluble glues in the bioplastic do not contain any solvents.

Plastic reserves to be used up

There is still some ordinary plastic in the libraries’ stores, but once it has been used up, new plastic will not be purchased. In the future, the new coating materials purchased will be bioplastic.

Sales Director of Suomen Kirjastopalvelu Oy Anna Humalainen states that ordinary plastic and bioplastic are currently being used simultaneously. “The transitional period will last until the ordinary plastic film in our stores has been used up. As a rough estimate, we will run out of ordinary plastic in a few months.”

Not everything needs to be coated

The libraries are also studying how books withstand loaning when they are not coated. The pilot project that started in Helsinki libraries in March is still underway, since the books have not circulated sufficiently due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The libraries believe that materials that are quickly outdated, magazines, inexpensive paperbacks and rarely loaned reference books could be left completely uncoated, whereas at least children’s books will still require a protective coating.

The decision to move to plant-based coating is significant as Helsinki libraries alone acquired about 124,000 books last year. In addition to Helsinki libraries, bioplastic has also been adopted at a total of 64 libraries in Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen.

Suomen kirjastopalvelu Oy and another company of the same group, Booky.fi Oy, are the contracted suppliers of HelMet libraries. In practice, they deliver all the book materials to libraries in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The plastic coating is mainly done by machine.

Photo: Maarit Hohteri