Recycle: future-ready

Turning packaging back into packaging

The key idea here is to turn yogurt cups back into yogurt cups, for instance, rather than downgrade them into flower pots and the like. We want to apply these extremely high standards to the food sector. Achieving this goal will require the industry to make crucial breakthroughs – from packaging design to waste collection and recycling itself. Progress in these areas will have to be made together, which is why we are calling on our partners to join the circular revolution!

Recycling keeps used material in circulation and prevents waste. The key idea here is to turn yogurt cups back into yogurt cups, for instance, rather than downgrade them into flower pots and the like. In other words, join the circular revolution!

Recyclability matters

Optimizing recyclability from the outset – also known as design for recycling – is crucial. While monomaterial solutions are ideally suited for reuse in recycling plants, not all packaging can be made from just one material. Some innovative thinking is called for here too, then – as demonstrated by the development of the K3® r100 cup, whose cardboard wrap automatically separates from the plastic cup in the waste disposal process.

Key factors in assessing recyclability include:

  • Where possible, just one material used (monomaterial)
  • If using a monomaterial is not desirable or feasible, materials are easy to separate
  • Barrier materials used sparingly
  • Printed area minimized or washable ink used
  • EuPia-compliant printing inks used
  • Detectability ensured (e.g., by refraining from using carbon black)
  • Sortability optimized (e.g., by using labels sparingly)
  • Packaging developed so that it can be fully emptie
We always keep our finger on the pulse of the latest trends in recycling. Together with our network of partners, we are developing product ideas that factor in these new developments.

Three regulatory trends

These three regulatory trends are worth keeping a close eye on:
  1. License fees for dual waste collection systems linked to recyclability
  2. Taxes on the consumption of virgin plastics
  3. Mandatory recycled content levels in packaging

Mechanical recycling

When people think of recycling, it is usually mechanical recycling (also known as material recycling) that comes to mind. At present, this is the most widely used process. It involves recovering raw material from plastic waste without breaking down the chemical compounds, then making new products from this feedstock. The aim is to maintain the quality of the material as far as possible and manufacture products of the same standard.

Especially in the food sector, the raw materials used have to meet extremely strict requirements. Currently, only recycled PET is approved for our core applications in the food sector. Considerable effort is being put into creating r-PP, r-PS, and r-HDPE for food packaging. We are also involved in a host of projects aimed at bringing these materials to fruition.

Greiner Packaging already supplies products made of r-PP in the nonfood segment – for example, its award-winning packaging for Henkel, which is made with 50% r-PP.

The latest trend: r-PET packaging

Products made from recycled PET are available for the food industry. We are constantly working on innovative developments that combine outstanding product properties with an r-PET content of up to 100%.

Do you have any questions about r-PET and your options? We are happy to help.

Do you have any questions about r-PET and your options? We are happy to help.

Peter Fessl
Director Operations Recycling

Chemical recycling

At present, the standard recycling process is mechanical recycling. On the other hand, chemical or feedstock recycling – although still in its infancy – holds great potential, especially for the use of recycled plastic material other than PET in the food sector. This latter technique puts waste plastic through an advanced process to produce the same feedstock for plastic production as is obtained from crude oil. As a result, the quality of the product is identical to that of virgin plastic.

There are currently two challenges associated with chemical recycling:

  • Its carbon footprint is still less than ideal because the process requires large quantities of energy, which means that the material is also currently relatively expensive. However, the technology is constantly evolving, so this may change in the near future.
  • The plastics produced are often not physically separated. Since the feedstock made from recycled plastic is identical to that made from crude oil, they both pass through the same equipment during production. As a result, it is unclear which plastic content has come from which source. The solution to this problem lies in mass balance systems – in other words, certification programs such as ISCC Plus, which give consumers the certainty that a minimum quantity of plastic from nonfossil sources was used in production.

Greiner Packaging is already working on specific projects that will allow our customers to put an appropriate ISCC Plus label on their products. It is well worth keeping an eye on developments in chemical recycling with a view to being well prepared for the future.

Get in touch to find out more. Your contact:

Florian Aschermayer
Global Senior Expert Sustainable Material Excellence

An overview of alternative materials

Among plastics, r-PET is currently the only postconsumer recycled material that can be mechanically recycled and has also received a positive EFSA opinion (with the exception of some small, specific material loops). As a result, this is the only recycled material available for us to use in our food packaging applications at the moment.

Greiner Packaging products: 
  • Bottles 
  • Lids
  • Trays
  • Blister packaging
  • Cups
  • Non-food products: available
  • Food products: available

An initial, limited series of r-HDPE types are available with US FDA food grade approval, as are small volumes with a positive EFSA opinion on the European market.

Mechanical recycling of r-PE is already possible, and the material can currently be used for packaging containing items such as certain cosmetic products. Chemical recycling is expected to become a more viable option in the coming years.

Greiner Packaging products: 
  • Shampoo bottles
  • Packaging for cleaning products
  • Non-food products: readily available (with quality constraints)
  • Food products: very limited availability
A positive EFSA opinion has not yet been granted for mechanically recycled r-PP, meaning that this option is not yet suitable for food contact. However, mechanically recycled PP could currently be used for food products as long as a functional barrier is used. Initial quantities of chemically recycled r-PP are pointing the way for the future, although industrial quantities are not expected to be available until a few years’ time.

  • Non-food products: readily available (with certain quality constraints – e.g., concerning coloring)
  • Food products: r-PP that has been chemically recycled (via pyrolysis) is already available in small quantities, backed by a positive EFSA opinion
After positive challenge tests, a dossier has already been written for an EFSA opinion on mechanically recycled PS. However, unless a positive EFSA statement is issued, mechanically recycled PS can only be used for food contact applications under certain conditions. Still, initial tests with 100 percent postconsumer recycled material have been highly promising. Small quantities of chemically recycled PS should be available in 2021.

Greiner Packaging products: 
  • Technical components
  • Blister packs
  • Non-food products: readily available (with quality constraints)
  • Food products: biocircular PS from organic waste is already available for specialty applications (mass balance).
Fossil-based plastics are made from oil. Non-fossil-based plastics can come from a wide range of sources. These include biomass, organic refuse, cellulose, starch, sugar cane, etc. The raw material base is broken down according to its generation: 
  • First-generation raw material: Primary fruit from the production process, such as kernels of corn. Dedicated acreage is required for this purpose.
  • Second-generation raw material: Secondary fruit from the production process, such as leaves and stems, which are considered waste. This doesn’t require dedicated acreage. 
  • Third-generation raw material: Organic waste and production waste. Dedicated acreage isn’t required.
Non-fossil plastics can be divided into different categories, such as vegetarian, vegan, and halal, and can be compostable – although they do not necessarily have to be. There are also biocircular plastics, which are recyclable, depending primarily on the availability of a recycling stream.

  • Biocircular PP, PS, and PE are already available, mainly but not exclusively based on the mass balance approach with food-grade approval.
  • PET with 30 percent biocircular content is available, containing sugarcane from Taiwan.
Fair plastic is based on the idea of removing washed-up plastic waste from the coastal regions of the world while securing reliable material streams. The principle is simple and socially responsible. Organizations such as Plastic Bank® initiate and coordinate the collection, sorting, and processing of plastic waste locally, before transporting it to be converted into new plastic products by producers like Greiner Packaging. This raises awareness of the value of plastic, guarantees local collectors a regular income, and helps make it possible to produce sustainable packaging with an improved carbon footprint.

A range of different recycled materials made from fair plastic is already available. This includes food-grade r-PET, r-PP, and r-HDPE for nonfood packaging to contain cleaning products, household chemicals, and so on.

Talk to us

Take advantage of our recycling know-how. Let’s talk!

Konrad Wasserbauer
Director Circular Economy

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