Recycling materials – an overview
r-PET leading the charge
In recent months, Greiner Packaging has intensified its efforts around the use of r-PET. This is the only material that – when made from PET bottles – currently enjoys a positive opinion from the EFSA with regard to its use in food packaging. The company currently uses the material for injection stretch blow molded bottles, such as honey and sauce bottles. These are made of around 30 percent recycled material. The plastics experts are also working on 100 percent r-PET cups for the dairy and food industries, though these are not yet ready for mass production. In addition to bottles, they also currently produce thermoformed lids from r-PET. “r-PET is a major area of interest for us,” explains Stephan Laske, R&D Director at Greiner Packaging. “We expect it to be increasingly widely used in the future, given that mechanical recycling processes already operate efficiently in this category and there is scope for further expansion. Agro-based PET is also available on the market with around 23 to 25 percent organic content – sourced from Taiwanese sugar cane, for instance. These materials will continue to grow in popularity, too, with bio-based and chemically recycled materials also due to play a major role in the future, in our view.”
Furthermore, Greiner Packaging sees great potential in r-PET trays, which are made of 100 percent recycled content from PET drinking bottles. If necessary, they can also be made of material that has been greenlit by the EFSA, allowing them to be used in the food industry without any issue – as yogurt packaging trays, for instance. The advantage of this approach is that cardboard trays, which have often been used for yogurt until now, can quickly become damp in the refrigerated section, potentially resulting in contaminants migrating from the cardboard trays into the food. r-PET solutions remove this concern. Another ideal aspect for retailers is that the transparency of r-PET trays allows for maximum visibility, meaning that the sustainable solution is readily identifiable on the shelf. The trays also help to ensure that the products are stable, preventing them from falling off the shelf. In addition, the lightweight trays are very well suited for transportation – Greiner Packaging customers can even see the impressive results for themselves by running their own transportation tests. What’s more, r-PET trays are a sustainable packaging solution, since no lacquer coatings, chemical colorants, or chemical solutions are used.
Best practice example: r-HDPE
Other than r-PET, r-HDPE is the only material with an FDA recycle number, although it has not been issued one by the EFSA. For this reason, products to be used in the cosmetics industry can be made from the material, but it is not (yet) approved for food contact in Europe – with the exception of milk packaging in the UK. At Greiner Packaging, PE is currently mainly used for bottles in the nonfood sector. Thanks to mechanical recycling, it is also possible for the plastics experts to work with recycled material in this area. “We expect that chemical recycling will also become a focus of attention in the next five years. Nonfossil materials, which are already available on the market, can be used as well – including in the food industry,” says Bettina Carow, Group Category Manager for Plastics at Greiner Packaging. A few months ago, Greiner Packaging brought a shampoo bottle made of 100 percent r-HDPE onto the market for Norwegian company Orkla.
r-PP is still unapproved for use in the food industry, despite the attempts of various materials manufacturers to change this situation. In the future, mechanically recycled material combined with a coating is likely to be used for food packaging. Mechanically recycled material is already successfully in use for nonfood applications. “We expect recycled material volumes to significantly increase in this area, too, due to future use of chemical recycling. PP is lighter than PET, which in turn makes it more sustainable,” Carow stresses.
Uncertain future for PS
The future use of PS is difficult to predict – the material could be replaced by chemically recycled PS, or alternatively by PET, PP, PE, r-PET, r-PP, or r-PE. It will probably take another three to five years for chemically recycled PS to be industrially available, which is the only way to forestall the material’s total disappearance from the market.