Food packaging often ends up being incinerated due to it being a composite product, which cannot be separated and properly reused. A large number of players are now joining forces to develop a technology that will make flexible plastic packaging reusable.
Around 50% of the plastic found in household waste is flexible films from, for example, food packaging. Of these, half are multi-laminate films - plastics composed of different types of plastics – which are very difficult to recycle for the same purpose.
In addition to posing a major environmental challenge, both locally and globally, this will also be very costly for food manufacturers in the future.
According to an EU directive, which comes into force in 2025, manufacturers will have to pay for the recycling of the plastic used in connection with their products.
In the Circular Mono Plastic Packaging Project, two technologies will be developed that enable the production of flexible packaging made of a single plastic-type, so that food packaging can be recycled to a greater extent.
This will significantly reduce the Danish burning of plastics, and simultaneously provide a competitive advantage to Danish companies that can offer solutions to the increased recycling requirements European food manufacturers will soon face. The Danish Innovation Fund has invested DKK Euro 1.5 million in the project.
"As part of Arla's sustainability strategy, we would like to develop more reusable packaging. It's just not that simple. On one hand, food packaging must help to prevent food waste, which has a negative impact on our climate," said Lise Berg Kildemark, director of Sustainable Packaging at Arla Foods. "On the other hand, we would like our packaging to be recyclable. Today, a lot of cheese is wrapped in multi-laminate films. We want to replace this with the more reusable plastic-type, monofilm. Therefore, we hope this project will enable us to both protect our food products and ensure the possibility of recycling the packaging of the future."
The project will develop two key technologies, both of which can be implemented on the regular printing lines, where the packaging film is already being decorated.
The first technology shall enable the plasma coating of the film to achieve the density necessary to protect the food. This will be done at ordinary atmospheric pressure, with equipment already used in print shops.
The second technology shall enable welding of the PET film, commonly used in plasma coating, on regular package printing lines. This must also be done at the print shops, where a thin welding layer is applied at the precise point where the film is to be welded.
During the next three years, the project will not only develop these two key technologies.
Early in the project, the new packaging materials will be applied in practice on dairy products. The same amount of packaging must be simulated collected, processed and then reused as new packaging.
During the course of the project, the parties expect the same plastic to be recycled 3-5 times so that any possible quality degradation can be studied.
A particular challenge in using recycled materials is hygiene and food safety, which are part of the development project right from the start.
Arla Foods participates in the project to make its packaging more sustainable. Arla Foods will function as the overall project manager to ensure the project's relevance to the food industry. Also, Arla Food will make available its trial package printing lines.
The Danish Technological Institute participates with its Center for Plastics and Packaging Technology. Together with DTU, The Danish Technological Institute will conduct the research activities while simultaneously function as the project administrator.
Technical University of Denmark (DTU) participates with two different specialties. DTU Chemical Engineering will participate in the development of printable welding ink. DTU Food will participate to make recycled packaging films suitable for food contact.
Nilpeter, who manufactures printing machines, is responsible for ensuring that the new technologies can be integrated into print shops of the future, and will make available its test printing facilities for practical trials.
Resino Trykfarver is responsible for developing and producing printable welding inks.
Trepko, who manufactures packaging machines, will ensure that the new packaging solutions work on existing industry packing machines.
Vetaphone, who manufactures surface treatment machines for print shops, will assist in the development of the plasma coating technology, to add the necessary density to the monoplastic films.
Damberg & Co. is a supplier of plastic films for the food industry, and in this project, will be responsible for the circular material economy by producing new films from recycled plastic packaging including washing and blow-molding new films.
Salling Group, who runs the supermarket chains Bilka, Føtex and Netto among others, participates and represents the retail industry in this project.
Dansk Affaldsforening is an association of the Danish waste and recycling companies, and will in this project ensure that the solutions can actually be recycled.
The Danish Food and Drink Federation (DI Fødevarer) represents the food industry broadly in this project.