Food packaging often ends up being incinerated due to it being a composite product, which cannot be separated and properly reused. A large number of players are now joining forces to develop a technology that will make flexible plastic packaging reusable.
Around 50% of the plastic found in household waste is flexible films from, for example, food packaging. Of these, half are multi laminate films – plastics composed of different types of plastics – which are very difficult to recycle for the same purpose.
In addition to posing a major environmental challenge, both locally and globally, this will also be very costly for food manufacturers in the future. According to a EU directive, which comes into force in 2025, manufacturers will have to pay for the recycling of the plastic used in connection with their products.
In the Circular Mono Plastic Packaging Project, two technologies will be developed that enable the production of flexible packaging made of a single plastic type, so that food packaging can be recycled to a greater extent.
This will significantly reduce Danish burning of plastics, and simultaneously provide a competitive advantage to Danish companies that can offer solutions to the increased recycling requirements European food manufacturers will soon face. The Danish Innovation Fund has invested DKK Euro 1.5 million in the project.
Packaging Challenges for Food Manufacturers
”As part of Arla’s sustainability strategy, we would like to develop more reusable packaging. It’s just not that simple. On one hand, food packaging must help to prevent food waste, which has a negative impact on our climate. On the other hand, we would like our packaging to be recyclable. Today, a lot of cheese is wrapped in multi laminate films. We want to replace this with the more reusable plastic type, monofilm. Therefore, we hope this project will enable us to both protect our food products, and ensure the possibility of recycling the packaging of the future,” says Lise Berg Kildemark, Director of Sustainable Packaging at Arla Foods.
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Technologies to be Developed
The project will develop two key technologies, both of which can be implemented on the regular printing lines, where the packaging film is already being decorated.
The first technology shall enable plasma coating of the film to achieve the density necessary to protect the food. This will be done at ordinary atmospheric pressure, with equipment already used in print shops.
The second technology shall enable welding of the PET film, commonly used in plasma coating, on regular package printing lines. This must also be done at the print shops, where a thin welding layer is applied at the precise point where the film is to be welded.
During the next three years, the project will not only develop these two key technologies. Early in the project, the new packaging materials will be applied in practice on dairy products. The same amount of packaging must be simulated collected, processed and then reused as new packaging. During the course of the project, the parties expect the same plastic to be recycled 3 – 5 times so that any possible quality degradation can be studied.
A particular challenge in using recycled materials is hygiene and food safety, which are part of the development project right from the start.