Advanced recycling company APK AG and Finnish packaging specialist Huhtamaki Flexibles Packaging Europe have joined together to develop a laminate tube packaging incorporating recycled material with the quality required for, among others, cosmetics packaging. Sustainable Plastics spoke with Jakob Settele, of Huhtamaki Flexibles Packaging Europe and Florian Riedl, of APK AG, on the challenges and progress made to date.
The year 2025 is approaching fast. It is a year with special meaning for the packaging industry: the year when a great many packaging suppliers, brand owners and major corporations will be called on to make good on their pledges regarding plastic packaging and the circular economy. Major players in the industry have undertaken to reduce the use of virgin plastics, both by increasing the amount of recycled content used and by better design: creating their packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable so that it can stay in the circular economy.
“The big urgency is mainly heard from the multinational brand owners, as various commitments were made at a stage when not all necessary information in terms of quality requirements and compliance was available,” said Jakob Settele, sales manager at Huhtamaki Flexible Packaging. ”The successful creation of a packaging material that contains a particular amount of recycled content by 2025 will be a complicated task for some products, but we are obviously working tremendously hard to advance this development.”
Huhtamaki, like other packaging producers, is therefore facing an enormous challenge, he said. “Not only do we need to integrate recycled content into our solutions, but we must also successfully apply design for recycling ,” said Settele. “Our cooperation with APK is a great start.”
Suitable for packaging
Huhtamaki was searching for a partner with a technology that would enable it within the short term to incorporate recycled content into one of the packaging materials in their portfolio - in this case, tube laminates. APK was not only able to come up with a suitable material, but also to provide the required quality and quantities for Huhtamaki to implement in tube laminates, said Settele.
APK’s Newcycling facility in Merseburg, Germany, valorises post-industrial multi-polymer, multi-layer plastic waste via a dissolution recycling process at industrial-scale. The plant, which has been online since June 2019, features an annual capacity of 8,000 t/a. The mixed input material - 70% LDPE and 30% PA - is transformed into high-purity recyclates.
“From the start, our aim has not been to produce recyclate for those market segments that have already been integrating recyclates into their products for the past twenty years – applications like furniture, park benches or landscaping,” said Florian Riedl, Director Business Development at APK AG. “With our LDPE recyclates, we are currently focusing on packaging segments such as non-food and cosmetic packaging and in the longer-term also food packaging. We specifically produce a quality recyclate that is suitable as an alternative to virgin material and have in fact been producing LDPE for use in packaging applications for nearly two years already. So we are very happy about the cooperation with Huhtamaki – especially as in Huhtamaki, we have found a partner who has introduced a new approach and a new application with its tube laminates.”
Riedl explained that there were two important points to keep in mind when integrating recycled material into a complicated application like tube laminate. One is function, which refers to the mechanical properties of the material itself: it must not flake or otherwise fail. The second is the filling good, or, in other words, the product inside the packaging, which in this specific case would be cosmetics.
APK’s recyclate material meets both the physical and the filling good requirements, said Riedl, something that doesn’t often happen.
In 2020, its Mersalen LDPE NCY, the name under which APK’s LDPE recyclate is sold, first underwent a comprehensive migration analysis, which confirmed its purity level to be ‘decisively higher’ than recyclates from standard mechanical recycling. Then, two human toxicological risk evaluations were performed by two independent toxicology experts. The purpose was to evaluate the use of APK’s LDPE recyclate types in both flexible and rigid packaging applications for cosmetics and in personal hygiene products. Both these evaluations concluded that the recyclates could indeed be safely be used for these applications and that they met all mandatory legal requirements.
“Our Newcycling technology produces very pure, homogenous LDPE, good quality recyclate and we were very proud when this was confirmed by these expert assessments,” Riedl said.