Unlocking recycling challenges with flexible packaging laminates

Steffen Annfinsen, Norner

The complexity of the structures makes it nearly impossible to recycle these films, leading to the growing amount of multi-layer packaging waste.

Plastic packaging comes in many shapes and forms. With its numerous properties, it offers protection to the packaged goods. It also helps reduce the carbon footprint, as a much lighter alternative to other materials.

The combined properties of materials or layers in multi-layer packaging, are what makes it specifically effective in the protection of goods, prolonged shelf life, and thereby optimised management of food waste. Such flexible packaging materials typically contain various oxygen barrier materials together with polyolefins.

But the complexity of these structures also makes it nearly impossible to recycle these films, leading to the growing amount of multi-layer packaging waste. This is where two EU H2020 projects, TERMINUS and MANDALA come in and Norner takes part in both.

TERMINUS

TERMINUS aims at unlocking the recycling of multi-layer packaging containing smart enzyme polymers with triggered intrinsic self-biodegradation properties. These polymers act as adhesives or tie layers in the design and manufacturing of multi-layer plastics for food and non-food applications.

The technology will be applied to biodegradable PUR-based adhesives for adhesive lamination and extrusion coating lamination, and polymers and tie layers in blown film extrusion. Tie layers are needed to bond the dissimilar materials in the laminate and it is a very smart concept if controlled biodegradation of these adhesives and tie layers would enable the separation of the different layers of the packaging. These can then be recycled using conventional recycling methods.

Increasing the recyclability of multilayer packaging will significantly aid the efforts of reaching the European plastics and packaging recycling targets, as well as contribute towards the establishment of a circular economy for packaging.

Project impact

The successful implementation of Terminus concepts will result in several environmental and business benefits:

15% improvement in economic efficiency

55% reduction of plastics in landfills

65% overall CO₂ footprint reduction

80% reduction of multi-layer plastic packaging in landfills

MANDALA

The MANDALA project ambitious target is to develop new adhesives with dual functionality (easy to split and barrier properties) by incorporating thermoreversible covalent bonds and radiation absorbing nanoparticles, which at the same time will generate a tortuous path enhancing barrier properties that are critical for enduser.

In addition, new polymer blends with increased biobased and recycled content of film layers will be developed. Their combination in a multilayer product will set the basis for new food (meat, ready-to-eat) and pharma (pill blister) packaging products.

MANDALA project will demonstrate that the de-lamination technology can be up-scaled and applied to reach intermediate solutions for multilayer/ multimaterial packaging (being biobased or not) progressively helping to become the end-of-life more sustainable by recovering all fractions and providing clean streams for their biodegradation or recycling.

The MANDALA project presents a sustainable solution for the plastic packaging sector, focusing on 3 fundamental pillars: eco-design, adhesives with double functionality and end of life, with the aim of finding a sustainable and effective solution for multilayer packaging in the medium term, insofar as recycling the conventional materials as well as the use of biopolymers.

This new packaging format will satisfy the business needs thanks to its barrier properties, and the design will facilitate recycling as it will be possible to separate the multiple layers through the development of a thermo-reversible adhesive.

Norner's Contribution

In both projects, Norner contributes with key facilities and research.

• Polymer modification with compounding

Barrier testing of films and laminates

• Developing barrier simulation technology

• Film development by formulating, extrusion and testing

• Polymer material for film extrusion

 

Both the MANDALA and TERMINUS projects are financed by EU through Horizon 2020. More information about the projects is available on the Cordis EU database as well as on the projects individual websites.

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