Polyester is the most widely recycled plastic material in Europe with over 1.5 million tonnes of recycled polyester (rPET) currently sold. Polyester film is well suited to mechanical recycling as it is able to maintain its physical and optical properties over repeated extrusion cycles. Compared to polyolefin materials it is far less susceptible to absorbing contaminants and when combined with solid state processing it is possible to use high levels of recycled material again in direct food contact applications with the appropriate EFSA approvals.
In flexible packaging, BOPET is usually used in combination with other plastic materials such as PE or PP, and often has inks and adhesives applied which can also reduce the quality and/or efficiency of mechanical recycling processes. There are a number of new technologies being introduced which aim to either separate mixed plastic laminates leaving a mono material stream which could then be processed through the existing mechanical or monomer recycling routes for polyester.
Commercial case studies also exist for the mechanical recycling of mixed plastic flexible packaging laminates. Unlike mixed polyolefin laminates (sometimes referred to as PO), flexible laminates based on BOPET film can be separated from mono PE or mono PP structures by density floatation, which allows the mechanical recycling industry to separate complex printed flexible packaging structures from simple unprinted "pre-consumer" packaging which is typically unprinted polyethylene film.
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Monomer recycling is a form of chemical recycling and involves breaking polyester film down into its monomer or pre-cursors such as PTA, DMT or BHET. It usually is combined with sophisticated purification steps which delivers a product comparable to virgin material, ready to be converted into high value, food contact approved Polyester film. Monomer recycling is seen as the being the lowest cost and lowest carbon footprint form of chemical recycling and represents an excellent end of life option for BOPET film.
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Feedstock recycling is a form of chemical recycling particularly suited to predominantly polyolefin based structures and often is used in reference to pyrolysis, although there are other technologies all aimed at recovering plastic waste into a feedstock suitable for refining to produce rNaphtha or other oil derivatives. This technology is very well suited to the processing of mixed plastic waste such as flexible packaging. Although approximately 25% of all flexible packaging items contain BOPET films, the overall PET content is only between 5 and 10% which typically is seen as an acceptable level by the companies investing in this exciting new technology.
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