A recent two-year project undertaken by a collection of large companies has unveiled the possible future of flexible plastic packaging. There could be a brighter future ahead, with the early years of the project coming to a close, the results so far have proved to be very promising, and have enticed more businesses to join the collaboration, to come together as a collective and move forward with these amazing recycling technologies.
For many years, the concern of the wide use of non-recyclable materials has been rising, with new packaging innovations being created but without a recycling option. Now an increasing number of people are looking forward to how this could affect the future of our world as well as looking for better alternatives. The only option for many of these non-recyclable items currently is landfill; an option, which many agree, should be put to a stop altogether.
The project itself required the support and participation of those within the full supply chain, from plastic productions, to brand owners and waste management services. The aim being to collaborate resources together to come up with a recycling solution for flexible plastic packaging, making it more eco-friendly, cost effective and beneficial to all involved in the chain. The next step after this is to put the ideas out there to many other companies, showing that the future of packaging lies in recyclable flexible plastics. The more people who choose to have faith in this option and invest, the better chances they have of becoming more innovative and finding the optimum packaging solution.
The company behind the research were Axion Consulting, a resource recovery company commented that “the ability to recycle this type of packaging at end of life will be ‘moving forward’ following successful research and trials.”
Their trails were conducted in partnership with the REFLEX Project, which encompassed a whole range of company supply chain elements, including Nestle. After researching many factors of the use of flexible plastic packaging, such as shrink-wrap, they determined factors such as the amounts of product which could be recovered and reused again through the use of mechanical recycling methods. This was then compared with the amount of wastage occurring, as well as considering the sorting factors, particularly in the way that packaging is branded and how this affects its recyclable future.
“We think that these changes and further technology optimisation can improve the economics of recycling flexible packaging and make the concept more attractive to investors and recyclers,” commented Axion Consulting Senior Engineer, Richard McKinlay.
Their tests proved that the recycled flexible packaging plastics through new methods met the requirements and technical properties needed for strong items, such as boxes and pipes, meaning that they did not decrease in quality and were still highly usable in the future. This is great news for the project, as a main goal was here achieved.
“Flexible packaging excels in terms of material efficiency, this creates a cascade of environmental benefits throughout the entire value chain, and avoids waste at source. What is still in its infancy is an end-to-end solution for this packaging type. This research could help close that gap,” added Gerald Rebitzer, the Director of Sustainability for one of the companies involved in the study, Amcor.
The set of guidelines created during this thorough two-year process are yet to be confirmed and released, as they must be validated at a European level before going any further. However, the results so far seem very positive and many have commented that exciting times may lie ahead for the packaging industry.
This is furthered by the future plans to expand the study to incorporate many more brand owners, waste management companies and other parts of the supply chain element, after the initial two-year period has ended; as the more knowledge and support given to the initiative, the greater chance of success that can be had.
It has so far been a slow process to get companies on board, as the risk factors of the unknown have been detrimental, however, as the first two years now come to a close, the great results have boosted the authority of this program. This means that many more are now willing to come on board as the initial, high-risk stages have been completed.
“The REFLEX project demonstrated how state-of-the-art technology in sorting and preparation for recycling can help increase the rate of flexible packaging recycling. It also showed how novel packaging designs and potential new marking techniques may further increase recyclability and efficient of the whole process,” noted Roger Morton, the Director of Axion Consulting.
Not only has the program addressed recycling needs and elements of the plastic itself on a practical product level, but also how brands can utilise these facilities on a marketing level. It is still be unveiled what this actually entitles, however, the closer all aspects of the supply chain work, the better the results will be, creating a circular model where the product can be used and reused, without compromising on any other features, including that of the marketing side. This could be the beginning of a whole new style of product marketing, combining packaging innovation with aesthetic value in an economically friendly manner.
“Used flexible packaging is an important resource waiting to be mined for high quality materials with the potential to be recycled into all kinds of long-life applications from automotive products to rotational/injection-moulded items,” he added.
This is just the first two-year research period, so we are looking forward to seeing the full results, as well as looking to the future to see what the next two years could bring for the packaging industry.
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Exciting times lie ahead for the plastic packaging industry, will you be a part of this movement?