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On the way to recyclable plastic packaging

Pioneering new high barrier mono-materials laminates

11. März 2020

The Competence center of Bobst Manchester in the UK which houses an EXPERT K5 vacuum metallizer and a NOVA CO 750 AlOx top coater supports the industry transformation towards new processes and substrates for barrier applications and coating technologies

Quelle: Bobst

Noth­ing per­haps de­fines the con­sumer-driv­en so­ci­ety of re­cent decades bet­ter than plas­tic. Its growth in pro­duc­tion since the 1950s – large­ly dri­ven by pack­ag­ing – has been ex­tra­or­di­nary. About a stag­ger­ing 300 mil­lion tons of it is pro­duced each year. And it is known that the qual­i­ties that make plas­tic so suit­ed for pack­ag­ing – its ver­sa­til­i­ty, dura­bil­i­ty, im­per­me­abil­i­ty – also make it very en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly un­friend­ly; non-biodegrad­able and chal­leng­ing to re­cy­cle.

In­creas­ing­ly alarm­ing pro­jec­tions around en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age have changed at­ti­tudes and fo­cused minds in re­cent years. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic are no longer a nice-to-have as­pi­ra­tion for com­pa­nies; they are ab­solute­ly es­sen­tial. In­deed, the ma­jor brands – Pep­si­Co, Unilever, Nestlé, Mars, Coca Cola Com­pa­ny to name a few – are chal­leng­ing their sup­pli­ers to achieve the tar­get of 100% reusable, re­cy­clable or com­postable pack­ag­ing by 2025.

“The shift in mind­set over the last two years has been huge,” says Eric Pavone, Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor, BU We­b-fed at BOB­ST. “We’ve gone past the tip­ping point. The sense of ur­gency, the po­lit­i­cal will, the re­sources – they are all now in place. The pack­ag­ing in­dus­try is at the fore­front of mak­ing al­ter­na­tives a re­al­i­ty, and the progress in in­no­va­tion in a short space of time has been ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

Find­ing al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic is dif­fi­cult, par­tic­u­lar­ly for food pack­ag­ing, for which high bar­ri­er pro­tec­tion against oxy­gen and wa­ter is an ab­solute must. Any al­ter­na­tive needs to have sim­i­lar prop­er­ties in terms of preser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion, ver­sa­til­i­ty and price – all while be­ing vi­su­al­ly pleas­ing to the con­sumer. And part of the chal­lenge can be found in the vari­abil­i­ty of flex­i­ble plas­tic pack­ag­ing – stand-up pouch­es, sa­chets, films, bags, lin­ers, wraps and so on – which gen­er­al­ly con­sist of sev­er­al lay­ers of dif­fer­ent types of plas­tics.

“Plas­tic is not one sin­gle ma­te­r­i­al – it comes in many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties, and most flex­i­ble pack­ag­ing is a com­bi­na­tion of them,” says Eric Pavone. “When we talk about re­plac­ing plas­tic, we are ac­tu­al­ly talk­ing about re­plac­ing a wide range of lam­i­nate ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing PET (poly­eth­yl­ene tereph­tha­late), alu­mini­um foil, PVC, PA (polyamide), and they all have their dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits for dif­fer­ent types of pack­ag­ing. Find­ing high bar­ri­er al­ter­na­tives with only one poly­mer rather than sev­er­al is not easy, but we be­lieve we are in the process of mak­ing a break­through.”

Be­cause it is the com­bi­na­tion of var­i­ous poly­mers that makes re­cy­cling plas­tics so dif­fi­cult, the ul­ti­mate aim is to cre­ate func­tion­al mono poly­mer ma­te­ri­als. But mono poly­mers tra­di­tion­al­ly don’t per­form to the lev­el of mul­ti poly­mer ma­te­ri­als. And even if ser­vice­able mono poly­mers are found, they need to be pro­duced with the same ma­chine ef­fi­cien­cy through­out the whole val­ue chain of pack­ag­ing.

At a re­cent tradeshow for the plas­tics and rub­ber in­dus­try (K 2019), BOB­ST along with sev­er­al part­ner com­pa­nies pre­sent­ed what they be­lieve to be a wa­ter­shed mo­ment – new high bar­ri­er mono-ma­te­ri­als lam­i­nate so­lu­tions de­signed for re­cy­cla­bil­i­ty.

A partnership bringing real progress

The different types of mono-material high barrier pouches exhibited on the BOBST stand at 
K 2019.

Quelle: Bobst

The de­vel­op­ment of these new high bar­ri­er mono-ma­te­ri­als lam­i­nates came about thanks to an in­dus­try part­ner­ship of some of the lead­ing in­no­va­tors in the field. BOB­ST is one of the world’s lead­ing sup­pli­ers of sub­strate pro­cess­ing, print­ing and con­vert­ing equip­ment and ser­vices for the la­bel, flex­i­ble pack­ag­ing, fold­ing car­ton and cor­ru­gat­ed in­dus­tries. It pro­vid­ed the use of its Com­pe­tence Cen­ters for high bar­ri­er, print­ing and lam­i­na­tion to test the vi­a­bil­i­ty of the new ma­te­ri­als through­out the pro­duc­tion process.

The oth­er part­ners in the project in­clude Dow, a PE resin sup­pli­er for the first step in the pro­duc­tion chain, Brück­n­er Maschi­nen­bau for the pro­duc­tion of the bi­ax­i­al stretched polypropy­lene and poly­olefin-based films, Hosokawa Alpine for the pro­duc­tion of MDO lin­ear den­si­ty poly­eth­yl­ene (LD­PE), ELBA to con­vert the fin­ished reels into pouch­es, and Con­stan­tia Flex­i­bles to pro­duce met­al­lized high bar­ri­er LDPE standup pouch­es.

Roadmap for 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025

“The high bar­ri­er mono-ma­te­ri­als lam­i­nates re­vealed at K 2019 were a sig­nif­i­cant break­through, but there are still sev­er­al stages to get through be­fore such ma­te­ri­als are in wide use,” says Eric Pavone. “At in­ter­pack and dru­pa this year, BOB­ST and its part­ners will an­nounce the ex­cit­ing next stages, in­clud­ing full high bar­ri­er PLA and pa­per pack­ag­ing struc­tures, mov­ing us one step clos­er to our goal.”

In the short term, use of polypropy­lene (PP) high bar­ri­er mono-ma­te­r­i­al lam­i­nates rep­re­sent a ‘low­er hang­ing fruit’ as the in­dus­tri­al so­lu­tion is avail­able now world­wide. LDPE, MDO and BOPE have greater re­cy­cla­bil­i­ty po­ten­tial but still re­quire ma­jor re­search and de­vel­op­ment time and in­vest­ment to con­vert these into in­dus­tri­al-s­cale op­er­a­tional so­lu­tions. But with the huge in­vest­ments in R&D go­ing into these so­lu­tions, the feel­ing in the in­dus­try is pos­i­tive.

“We are on the right path to de­vel­op­ing reusable, re­cy­clable biofilm or pa­per al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tion­al non-re­cy­clable plas­tic flex­i­ble pack­ag­ing on an in­dus­tri­al scale in the next few years,” says Eric Pavone. “Even just a few years ago this would have been al­most unimag­in­able, but BOB­ST and its in­dus­try part­ners are mak­ing it a re­al­i­ty. We are con­fi­dent that the work we are do­ing will ul­ti­mate­ly have a tremen­dous pos­i­tive im­pact on the in­dus­try and the en­vi­ron­men­t.”

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