According to research of the MacArthur Foundation (EMF), merely 14 percent of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, while 40 percent ends up in landfill and only 1/3 in fragile ecosystems. By 2050, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans. Contributing to the transformation of global plastic packaging material flows is essential for each stakeholder of the plastics value chain.

Based on this claim, a consortium of leading technology companies, comprising of BOBST, BOREALIS, EREMA and HENKEL, hosted a Circular Packaging Event and of last year at GEA in Weert, The Netherlands. During this day experts from the industry presented the latest developments in The Full PE Laminate solution as well as other fully recyclable monomaterials and shared insights into recyclability properties and second life possibilities. One of the main innovations presented at the event is the brand-new barrier solution for fully recyclable monomaterial, suitable for flexible food packaging. The innovation was demonstrated on the GEA SmartPacker CX400. Guest speakers from the European Organization for the Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) and SUEZ, gave another dimension to the day and helped close the circle.

Current challenges of flexible packaging

As sustainable and recyclable packaging is becoming an increasingly important topic in the market for flexible packaging for both brand owners and end users, the plastics and packaging industries are looking for ways to ultimately move to monomaterial structure to facilitate recycling. Current structures cannot be recycled because of the use of mixed polymers in the structure, such as barrier or printed substrates/films typically involving PET laminated to sealant substrates consisting of PE, OPP or CPP dependent upon the application. To deliver a full PE barrier laminate structure is not easy as the mechanical properties of PE are not optimised for web transportation, stability and conversion and the heat sensitivity of the film also creates additional challenges when using vacuum deposited barrier layers.

The Full PE Laminate

The Full PE Laminate solution by Borealis and Borouge is a step-change concept in flexible plastic packaging. It is based on the proprietary Borstar® Bimodal Polyethylene (PE) Technology in combination with machine direction oriented (MDO) processing technology. Packaging solutions of The Full PE Laminate are as efficient in terms of performance as other flexible packaging structures and serve as 100 percent substitutes for multi-material film solutions in pouches and packs. Most compellingly, the recyclate gained from The Full PE Laminate packs can be used for valuable end products with no loss in efficiency, and can even be used to produce PE film products.

Importance of recyclable packaging

Additionally, Henkel gave more insights about the growing importance of recyclability in the flexible packaging industry. Both, from a brand owner’s perspective for Laundry & Home Care products and as technology leader for adhesives & coatings, Henkel showcased different packaging design solutions and concepts towards a circular economy, such as the Full-PE Laminate for laundry detergents or the Megaperls pouch with recycled plastics and highlighted the role of adhesives & coatings in a circular economy. Extensive tests, performed by Henkel, partners and other market participants, have successfully demonstrated the viability of recycling PU laminated films into high quality secondary materials when mutually compatible films are used.

Barrier solution on fully recyclable PE film

As part of the collaborative project with the other partners, BOBST utilized its world leading Competence centers in Bobst Manchester and Bobst Italia to provide a full turnkey solution for the conversion of the newly created MDO PE film. The film was first AlOx coated on a new BOBST K5 EXPERT metallizer, a unique barrier topcoat was then applied using an AlOx optimized BOBST CL 850D coating & laminating machine, the film was then printed on a new RS 6003C HS gravure printing press and finally laminated on the CL 850D machine. As well as being recyclable, the new packaging solution also needs to meet barrier targets which are to achieve barrier levels equivalent to that of metallized PET (OTR - 1 cm³/(m²d) & WVTR - 1 g/(m²d)), BOBST is now heading towards achieving this important market requirement.

Stand-up pouch (SUP) manufacturing

The new material has been tested on Vertical Form Fill Seal equipment by GEA experts in Weert, who were entrusted with the task of adapting the packaging equipment GEA SmartPacker CX400 Quatro Seal for use with the new film material. Jacques Timmermans, the product application specialist at GEA, who was in charge of the project, said, “We managed to adjust our pack line for the flexible PE film so that we can now work in continuous mode without a loss of speed or efficiency. The Full PE laminate runs well on GEA two-line with rubber in-lay seal profiles – special profile.”

Addressing sorting and recyclability

When talking about the recycling of packaging, one has always to consider both – the recycling of production waste generated during the production of the packaging and of course the impact on the postconsumer recycling performance.

Production waste recycling

Whenever it is possible during the design phase to make packaging less complicated in terms of the recyclability, this also has a positive impact on the recycling of production waste. Material costs during the production of packaging account for about 80 percent of the total production costs. This means the recycling of the production waste, which can be up to 30 percent, is crucial for economical packaging production. The recycling can be handled in-house by the packaging producer or by recyclers using this industrial production waste. “In the case of monomaterial solutions the respective repellets can be used for a broader field of applications in the next product life – e.g. the Full PE laminate pouches can be used again for film applications which is not possible with PET/PE packaging, according to EREMA experts.

Post consumer recycling

A test carried out at the SUEZ Rotterdam sorting plant indicates that the large majority of the tested sheets were recognized as film and sorted out in a fraction that is being sold to specialized PP/PE film recyclers. These recyclers are currently suffering from the loss in yield and quality due to the presence of multi-layer packaging in the film fraction. The quality of the multilayer packaging waste fraction is significantly increasing by incorporation of the Full PE laminate.

Also in industrial sorting plants, these Full PE pouches can be sorted out with the PE film fraction from the technical point of view. It can also be the case that it is collected with the mixed film fraction. In that case monomaterial solutions are in general a contribution to make these fractions less complicated.

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