Packaging Europe’s brand director Tim Sykes spoke to Monica Battistella, Sustainability Manager at Taghleef Industries, about flexible packaging circularity, Taghleef’s sustainability strategies, and the company’s developments in design for recyclability.
TS: How do you see overall progress around flexible packaging circularity? (How encouraged are you by progress? What are the biggest challenges and barriers?)
MB: Awareness is growing around reducing the environmental impact of flexible packaging and many initiatives are underway to address these challenges. One of the most advanced developments is the adoption of design guidelines – the work being done by associations like CEFLEX on this is getting results.
The challenge right now is to see how these efforts will be aligned with the requirements on recyclability of the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation which apparently will not provide a clear definition of what recyclability means.
Talking of progress, we are very happy to see investments in recycling infrastructures to address both mechanical and chemical recycling. Furthermore, introducing advanced sorting technology and the adoption of artificial intelligence tools are opening new opportunities to define a better quality recyclate – which is much needed to create a broader market for secondary raw materials.
Hopefully, as we progress, more efforts will also be invested to educate consumers about the protection offered by packaging as well as the proper instructions for its disposal after use.
TS: Whose responsibility do you think that is, or who has the most leverage to make that happen?
MB: The call to action is for the whole value chain, but especially stakeholders who have a direct communication channel to consumers – like brand owners and retailers
TS: How does this big picture for the industry relate to Taghleef’s specific sustainability strategies? How are you responding to the state we’re in currently?
MB: We have started this conversation talking of design guidelines and we are strongly committed to supporting the value chain through our reDESIGN™ service. We help our customers to switch away from complex multi-material packaging structures to others which can facilitate recycling at the packaging’s end of life.
But our reDESIGN™ service is also about using alternative resources to improve carbon footprint of the final packaging and look at alternative sources.
We include the use of recycled content, be it derived from a chemical recycling process or mechanical one. Our view is that chemical recycling should be used where needed, but mechanical recycling whenever possible. We support the whole value chain when it comes to collection, sorting and recycling steps which are essential to access valuable recycled plastics. There is a value for plastics waste, it’s a secondary raw material.
We are also looking at using raw materials, in mass balance, from renewable resources for our biobased BOPP films. This approach runs parallel to our NATIVIA® portfolio which is growing broader to include not only PLA films. In fact, we are working with new polymers, like PHA, which can offer alternative end of life such as home composting and the next step would be to look at different environmental conditions like soil and marine.
These solutions can help in dealing with plastics littering in regions where there is no waste collection at all. Indeed, we are working locally with associations and we’re part of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, supporting local governments and universities to create the basis for implementing collection systems, sorting and recycling structures. However, we should not ignore the fact that in some regions this change will not happen in short term.
TS: The two key areas of your product development are in design for recyclability in traditional plastics and incorporating more PCR, as well as compostable, biodegradable substrates. What are the latest results of this research and development?
MB: As anticipated, our new NATIVIA® grade is under testing for home compostability. The certification step is part of our validation journey which includes our customers and therefore important steps such as printing, lamination and performance on the wrapping machine. So the whole value chain needs to be tested.
We’re working on mechanical recycled content and have embraced this challenge, on the material and potential side effects. A few years back, mechanical recycling was limited to discussions with recyclers and the value chain provided the machines, sorting, washing and technologies like ink and lamination. Now rising producers are saying they want to own it.
Traditionally, recyclers would work to bring on the market a grade which is suitable for rigid applications, typically injection moulding. However, such a grade is not suitable for extrusion lines. We see that collaboration and sharing know-how among different stakeholders, like resin producers, recyclers, machine producers, labs and converters, like ourselves, is essential to improve on the quality and to have a better understanding of what is needed, at least for essential parameters.
Last but not least, last year we invested in a brand-new coater, thus enabling us to use that technology in different solutions, providing the functionality, performance and barriers needed to complement and complete the solutions in our portfolio.
TS: Finally, where do you anticipate the next challenges that Taghleef needs to grapple with or the goals you would like to achieve with your R&D, over the next year or two?
MB: As for NATIVIA® portfolio, the concept we have in mind is to help whenever recycling, for any reason, is not possible. We have a global footprint, so it is our responsibility to look at this problem on a global scale. It is important that we continue our journey and look at biodegradation in soil and the marine environment.
In Europe, the biggest challenge that lies ahead is the PPWR. There’s much uncertainty on many points and, on the top, there are also individual initiatives of member states – like plastic tax or littering tax – which pose additional threats.
Also recently there have been many discussions about chemical recycling and the adopted mass balance methodology. The feeling is that a negative approach towards the current methodology will also negatively influence investments whereas they should be encouraged instead.
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Also, if you’re interested in packaging sustainability, you will want to attend our Sustainable Packaging Summit in Amsterdam on 14-15 November. The Summit brings together leaders and pioneers from across the industry to align strategically, learn, network, and create a critical mass to accelerate change. You can learn more by clicking here, and you can buy a ticket to attend here.