CEFLEX Sustainable End Markets workstream is planning industrial scale trials delivering higher-value end market applications for flexible packaging. This work is building the business case for investment and delivery of a Quality Recycling Process, able to unlock the environmental and economic potential of mechanical recycling. Interview with Dana Mosora, on the significant industrial and technical collaboration looking to ‘tune the quality’ and provide sustainable end markets…
What are the end market applications for recycled materials coming from flexible packaging today… and how do you see them changing in the future?
First, let’s clarify the scope and status quo. We are talking about flexible packaging collected as post-consumer waste from household after the disposal in a collection bin or bag. This waste is either sorted into a polyethylene (PE) film fraction, which can be recycled into garbage bags or other non-demanding film applications like construction sheets. Alternatively, mixed plastics are further recycled into various injection moulding or more often compression moulding applications while the rejects go into either refuse derived fuel (RDF) or solid refuse fuel (SRF) for Energy from Waste industrial processes.
It is clear that this scenario is not enough from many perspectives – which is why we are pushing so hard to support a circular economy for flexible packaging. In Germany, for instance, 63% of plastic packaging must be recycled by 2022, up from 40% in 2018 and we know that 55% of all plastic packaging has to be recycled by 2030 Europe-wide. This represents a significant increase in recycling rates for flexible packaging.
To realise an ambitious vision in which these targets are met, CEFLEX Sustainable End Markets workstream trials are working to demonstrate a Quality Recycling Process – able to deliver polymers for non-food applications like collation shrink, pouches, bags or labels. This is the name of the game, where performance infrastructure and processes are able to boost recycling rates, create value and keep resources in the economy.
New sorting specifications have been already created in Germany, which extract the maximum possible polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or a combination of these two polyolefins in either LDPE film (310-LDPE) or Polyolefin Flexibles (PO Flex) recycling specifications. CEFLEX brings them into a new higher value mechanical recycling by post-sorting of mono polymers from these new sorting fractions to create recycled PE or PP film grades. These can be further recycled into non-food flexible packaging.
Unlocking these possibilities requires further decontamination by effective removal of organic contaminants with hot washing and maximum removal of remaining contaminants via extrusion with double filtration and further deodorisation.
Where can we make the biggest changes and create the most value?
The circular economy is all about keeping resources and value in play at the highest quality possible. Well, we have been working to identify pockets of high material and resource efficiency potential, able to create revenue for recycling plants.
Only by exploiting the intrinsic value in these drops’ fractions, will recyclers close the mass balance in their plants and profit from emerging end markets in extrusion and injection moulding. If we can put all the pieces together, it provides a compelling business case as well as the environmental benefits of a circular economy.
In 2020 we are working to identify, assess and develop valuable end applications for these drops, which will bring flexible packaging materials back to the economy in a resource efficient manner.
These valuable new recycled polymers will eventually replace a large part of the growing PE film and mixed plastics specifications of recycled polymers from post-consumer flexible packaging waste – helping Europe reach higher recycling rates and prove the circularity of flexible packaging.
“Sorters, recyclers, technology providers, raw material producers, converters and brand owners have embraced the challenge in this and connecting workstreams. Together we can create valuable new end markets for recycled materials coming from flexible plastic packaging”
Dana Mosora, CEFLEX
How are CEFLEX and its stakeholders working to achieve this?
This is the most valuable part of the story, because these efforts and rewards are only made possible by CEFLEX’s “entire value chain DNA”. Quality recycling is not trivial. It calls for expertise, action and collaboration – to the power of three I would say – a forward-looking approach and a “we can do it” mindset.
Sorters, recyclers, technology providers, raw material producers, converters and brand owners have embraced the challenge in this and connecting workstreams. Together we can create valuable new end markets for recycled materials coming from flexible plastic packaging.
We are looking at several aspects in parallel. The design of a new quality recycling process; characterisation of recycled materials produced; and development briefs for the various end applications targeted. This year will be a critical phase, validating the potential of the recycling technologies. Once this is done, we can take major strides towards a circular economy and development of new end market applications.
Right now, we are validating recycling technologies we tested at experimental scale last year and moving to industrial scale trials. These will enable the production of enough large volumes of new quality of recycled PE and PP of film grade to explore new end market applications. We are also collaborating with promising start-ups proving themselves in the lab and facilitating trials to really accelerate opportunities to recycle more flexible packaging and at better quality.
Based on the results from all this work we will then start to build the business case for investment into the Quality Recycling Process at sorters and recyclers – moving full speed into the various new end markets.
This work embodies our Mission Circular – designing, specifying and delivering value creation for flexible packaging, armed with detailed technical applications and solutions to achieve a circular economy.