The original K3 cardboard-plastic packaging solution was created nearly 40 years ago during an oil crisis, to reduce the amount of plastic being used. Dairy customers were the first to capitalise on its environmental benefits and added-value marketing features.
Through four decades of continuous development and improvement, K3 has been widely adopted by the international dairy industry, plus producers in the food-on-the-go, in-cup drinks and household products markets.
“Greiner Packaging is proud of the K3 packaging concept, which has been the subject of continuous improvement for 40 years,” said Jens Krause, Greiner Packaging K3 category manager.
“As we face the challenges presented by the need to achieve a circular economy, K3 becomes even more relevant and crucial to the success of brands which need to ensure they operate in the most sustainable ways.”
Conceived and developed as a more sustainable packaging solution, K3 combines a lightweight plastic cup with a removable cardboard outer wrap that, from the outset, was designed to be easily separated from the plastic to enable recycling. Compared to a direct printed cup of the same size, the K3 cup saves up to 50% of the amount of plastic needed.
Step by step, Greiner is now working to further reduce the amount of plastic used, among others made possible by ongoing developments in the company’s thermoforming technology.
“Beyond being fully recyclable, the plastic used to make K3 cups can also be made from recycled materials,” said Krause. “Cups made using rPET are already on the market, and we have successfully trialled 100% mechanically recycled PS.“
Cardboard-plastic combinations have many advantages when it comes to sustainability. The cardboard wrap, which can be made from recycled material, lends sturdiness to the plastic cup so that it can be produced with particularly thin walls, significantly reducing the amount of plastic used. The wrap is easy to detach from the cup thanks to an innovative tear-off system, so that the two components can then disposed of separately and recycled. Since the white or transparent plastic cup is unprinted, it can be recycled very effectively. In addition, the carbon footprint of K3 cups is significantly smaller than that of alternative packaging solutions.
“Separating the cardboard wrap from the plastic cup currently requires action by consumers,” said Krause. “If they do so when discarding the used packaging, the cup will perform very well in the recycling process. However, if they don’t do that, the components will not always be correctly identified in the sorting system, making it difficult to correctly recycle the K3 packaging. As a result, in some countries, the cups are currently quite difficult to recycle properly.