The problems associated with the circularity for household flexible packaging are complex. Unfortunately in the desire for quick fixes a number of commonly believed myths have developed which have led to incorrect conclusions being made and a delay in progress which the industry urgently needs to make. At BOPET Films Europe we believe there is a need to honestly assess the opportunities for increasing circularity for household flexible packaging structures, to design the right packaging structures which have the least environmental impact and to embrace advanced recycling as the best end of life option for household flexible packaging.
80% of household flexible packaging structures are mono polyolefin.
PET based laminates alone make up approximately 25% of the household flexible packaging market, and other substrates are based around PA, paper and foil. Recent estimates of “mono” polyolefin structures have been dramatically revised down to 52%.
Mechanical recycling of polyolefin based household waste is “best in class” and is proven at scale.
Although there are large quantities of PE films mechanically recycled in Europe, this is almost exclusively pre consumer waste and is mainly unprinted collation and stretch wrap and larger than A4 in size.
Mechanical recycling can be scaled to be a significant end of life option for polyolefin rich flexible household packaging waste.
There is a significant difference in the size of the flexible packaging market which predominantly requires food contact approval compared to the size of the end markets for down cycled material.
PET can easily be designed out of flexible packaging structures.
PET is the backbone of over a million tonnes of flexible packaging laminates. Moving to mono polyolefin structures will have a significant financial and environmental cost, with more material usage and less efficient packing processes.
It is not possible to make mono PET flexible packaging structures.
Heat sealable PET films have been widely used in the market for over 4 decades and there are commercial examples of mono PET structures being used in all common packing processes. Although there are some applications where the combination of PET and polyolefins is required, there is a significant proportion of the flexible packaging market which could be moved to mono PET.
PET is not compatible in feedstock recycling processes such as pyrolysis.
The majority of companies developing feedstock recycling technologies are actively promoting their capability of processing mixed plastic waste. Data exists to prove that PET poses no significant issues at 5-10% mass loading which is typical of the current flexible packaging fraction.
Feedstock recycling represents the best option to meet targets to incorporate 30% recycled content into flexible packaging.
Although feedstock recycling represents the only viable option for large scale recycling of polyolefin rich flexible packaging waste, the ability to process enough material back to plastic to guarantee 30% recycled content by mass balance is yet to be proven. PET films used in either mixed plastics or mono PET structures remain the most viable way of incorporating high levels of recycled content in flexible packaging.