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Packaging: Closed loop partnerships the way forward

Four partners in PET multilayer packaging recycling

The European Green Deal requires all packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030 – a regulation that is perceived as particularly challenging for multilayer packaging, since its layers first need to be separated before entering recycling streams.

Now, multilayer packaging based on PET can have a bright and sustainable future. Sulayr, a recycling company operating in Europe, has successfully commercialised a multilayer recycling process that achieves ‘closed-loop’ status and enables PET to be reused with virtually zero waste. With this, a circular economy practice for PET containing packaging materials already exists, but this process can be improved and become more practical and effective.

German industrial adhesives specialist BASF, packaging machinery OEM Bobst and films expert Evertis are supporting Sulayr in this endeavour.

At the core of the process is a multilayer film produced by Evertis, comprising PET and PE layers, laminated with a BASF Epotal water-based adhesive and processed with a Bobst coater. Multilayer films are used for various packaging materials; after use, the waste is delivered to sorting facilities. Sulayr can use the so-called waste as raw material, ensuring a closed-loop. The company separates the multilayers and makes the PET available for re-use, with recycled PET (rPET) delivered to Evertis and other film producers who then restart the cycle.

Sulayr has been able to separate different types of multilayers since 2009, but the speed and cost-effectiveness of the process depends on the debonding of the films. One way to optimise the recycling process is to produce all PET/PE trays under specific conditions that facilitate easy separation. This is an area in which the partners are collaborating: before bringing a new laminate to market, Evertis for example, qualifies it to be recyclable in Sulayr’s process, ensuring its layers can be separated easily. Sulayr and its collaboration partners also hope to change industry perceptions on a wider basis. Multilayers based on PET are necessary for many industrial uses, but were not thought of as a sustainable solution – until now. This best-practice process could change the conversations about PET, waste, and sustainability that are taking place within value chain leaders and packaging associations, such as Petcore and CEFLEX.

Sabic, Tesco, Heinz & Berry in closed-loop project for Heinz pots

Meanwhile, chemical firm Sabic has joined forces with Heinz, retailer Tesco and packaging maker Berry Global in a recycling trial in the UK designed to close the loop on soft flexible plastic packaging collected from Tesco stores. It has been used to produce certified circular PP from Sabic’s Trucircle portfolio for microwavable Heinz Beanz Snap Pots, made from 39% recycled soft plastic.

Consumers are encouraged to return soft plastic packaging to collection points set up at Tesco stores. A portion of this collected plastic packaging is converted into recycled oils, called Tacoil, through a thermal anaerobic conversion process. Sabic uses the oil to produce certified circular PP of the same quality as virgin resin. With these polymer pellets, Berry Global then manufactures the new Beanz Snap Pots and sends them to Heinz for filling with Beanz and delivery to Tesco. Once emptied, the pots and sleeves can be returned to kerbside collection points. “We are happy to reaffirm our role as a provider of unique circular solutions,” states Lada Kurelec, General Manager PP, PET, PS, PVC, PU & Elastomers Businesses for Petrochemicals at Sabic. “Next to the material know-how, we have brought value chain partners together and provided crucial elements such as support with certification processes or life-cycle assessment calculations, all while helping to prevent valuable used plastics from being lost to landfill or incineration.”

The Snap Pots recycling trial is part of Heinz’s global pledge aimed at making 100% of its packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

To date flexible packaging has been difficult to recycle, and until 2020 just 6% of soft plastic packaging was being recycled in the UK.

Sabic, Tesco, Heinz & Berry in closed-loop project for Heinz pots

Tesco started collecting soft plastic in all its large stores in 2021 to help plug this recycling gap in the UK. The Heinz and Tesco project with certified circular polymer from Sabic is considered a breakthrough with the potential of a real game changer.

The new Heinz Beanz microwavable pots are made with 39% of certified circular Sabic PP homopolymer suitable for injection moulded or thermoformed food packaging products. The material meets the requirements of food-contact safety regulations and is a true drop-in solution to replace virgin PP in this thin-wall application without compromising processability or mechanical performance, Sabic adds.

The recycled content in the Snap Pots is validated by mass balance according to the ISCC Plus programme.


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