While multilayer packaging offers decided advantages by protecting products and extending the shelf life of food, the drawback is the way it is designed. As the up to 11 individual, ultra-thin layers tend to be composed of different materials that are inseparable at the end of life, multi-layer packaging is nearly impossible to recycle by mechanical means.
However, not only does this type of packaging prevent spoilage and food waste, it is considerably lighter and thinner than other packaging options and uses less material, plus its light weight contributes to considerably lower CO2 emission rates during transport. It is therefore considered to be a resource-efficient solution, compared to the available alternatives.
Now, a collaborative project participated in by BASF, Borealis, Südpack and Zott has shown that multiple layers no longer have to be an obstacle to recycling and that such packaging can even be manufactured from recycled polymers.
Within the scope of its ChemCycling project - aimed at developing chemical recycling technology that will make it possible to recycle mixed plastics - BASF and its partners have for the first time produced a prototype packaging made of chemically recycled polyamide and polyethylene.
“This goes to show that the recycling of multilayer packaging could soon come full circle,” said Christoph Gahn, who is responsible for the polyamide business at BASF.
BASF supplied the chemically recycled polyamide, while Borealis provided sustainably produced polyethylene. Südpack, a leading European producer of film packaging for food products, produced the multilayer film which was used to manufacture a specially sealed Mozzarella packaging for Zott Gourmet Dairy.
“What is special about this pilot project is that both components of the packaging – polyamide and polyethylene – are made from chemically recycled material,” said Maurits van Tol, Borealis Senior Vice President Innovation, Technology & Circular Economy Solutions. The collaboration between the companies involved also made it possible to consistently certify each step up from the raw material to the finished packaging, he added.
The raw materials for polyamide and polyethylene were produced in very small quantities as part of the "ChemCycling" project. The pyrolysis oil derived from plastic waste was supplied by a partner and fed into BASFs Verbund production site in Ludwigshafen as feedstock. According to the certified mass balance method, both plastics have an allocated 100% share of recycled materials.