The Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging (CEFLEX) initiative, a collaboration of over 160 European flexible packaging companies, associations and organisations has developed what it calls QRP - a Quality Recycling Process - for flexible packaging. The breakthrough process was developed within the consortium’s Sustainable End Markets workstream, said CEFLEX.
The project was aimed at establishing a process that would make it possible to deliver commercial quantities of polyethylene and polypropylene film quality recyclates for a range of non-food flexible packaging markets not currently open to post-consumer flexible recyclates derived from household waste.
Having reached this milestone, the CEFLEX workstream is now planning industrial trials to bolster the business case for investment in infrastructure to leverage its QRP technology into a mainstream solution. Participants in the dedicated action team have rigorously tested the potential of the process. Data from industrial trials running in 2020-21 will assess the economic viability of the process and a business case for investment in necessary infrastructure.
“Our trials have shown good yields and delivered recyclate quality suitable to replace virgin polymer grades in a number of demanding film and flexible packaging applications,” said workstream lead, Dana Mosora.
From the point of view of the brand owner, QRP shows definite promise. As Gareth Callan, PepsiCo Sustainability Packaging Manager, R&D, pointed out, “A circular future for flexible packaging is only achievable through collaboration across industries and that’s what the Quality Recycling Process is enabling. Sorting and reprocessing lie at the heart of the challenge. We need new technology that unlocks value at scale so that recycling of flexible packaging can become more economically feasible.”
The Quality Recycling Process developed by Ceflex uses post-sorting and advanced decontamination to produce higher value recycled fractions of polymers for higher end applications. It produces film grade quality rPE and rPP polymers that can replace virgin polymer grades in non-food flexible packaging. This is achieved through the use of near infrared (NIR) sorting by polymer and colour, followed by hot washing and extrusion with extra filtration and deodorisation.
A key element in the process is that not just the valuable recycled PE and PP film grades are targeted, but that the value inherent in the remaining waste - PE film and polyolefin flexible rests, called “the drops” - is recovered, generating revenue for recycling plants and the circular economy.
CEFLEX is working to identify, assess and develop valuable end applications for these drops, which will bring flexible packaging materials back to the economy in a resource-efficient manner.