Recon Polymers BV, a Dutch start-up located in Roosendaal, has developed an innovative solution that makes it possible to recycle currently hard-to-recycle beverage cartons.
The average beverage carton consists of around 75% paperboard, 20% plastic and 5% aluminum foil. Current recycling processes are already able to recover the paperboard fibres and a healthy market has developed to convert these into high-quality paper pulp for use in both industrial and consumer products.
The story is different for the caps and the plastic and aluminium layers making up the rest of the multi-layered carton structure. While the caps, made from HDPE can be separated and recycled, the aluminium-LDPE composite material makes recycling a challenge.
The industry then came up with a different solution: the development of a new, recyclable material dubbed PolyAl, which, as the name implies, consists of the mixture of aluminium and plastic waste remaining after fibre recovery. PolyAl has since been used in a number of different applications, including corrugated roofing and roofing tiles.
As one of the driving forces behind the development of the PolyAl market, TetraPak has collaborated with different stakeholders to promote its production and use.
Recon Polymers started in 2016 as a pilot factory to test the technology it had developed to process the plastic and aluminium mix from beverage cartons. The ambition was to put a solution in the market that would enable PolyAl recycling on a larger scale.
With the support of TetraPak, that ambition is coming true: since September of last year, the company has been operating a commercial-scale plant in Roosendaal (NL) capable of producing around 6,000 tons of PolyAl per year, a volume the company expects to reach this year.
According to Roderick Friend, head of the Tetra Pak Office in the Netherlands, the plant is a ‘real innovation’.
“We are very proud to be part of such a creative initiative that show that all materials used in our packaging can have a new, valuable life,” he said.
The next step will be to ramp up production at the site to over 15,000 tons a year. The input material will mainly originate from neighbouring countries.
PolyAl is a flexible, waterproof, highly resistant and rot-proof material. Teun Suijkerbuijk, director of Recon Polymers BV, saw its potential from the beginning.
“We were convinced that PolyAl was a raw material that could have a strong business value,” he explained. “With the support of Tetra Pak, we were able to convert this idea into a concrete and successful recycling model for the plastic and aluminum mix from used beverage cartons.”
At least one of the applications for the PolyAl material produced by Recon is already commercial: a Dutch manufacturer called Fauna Birdproducts BV has already launched a number of bird feeders made from PolyAl under their ‘Singing Friend’ line of products.
For Fauna Birdproducts, PolyAl is a very interesting material option.
“The use of PolyAl for our products perfectly fits our ambition to use good quality, sustainable raw materials in line with the image of our company and products. It is resistant, waterproof and is a great example of how recycled products can concretely start a new life,” said the company’s director, Jeroen Mutsaers.
He is encouraged by the interest taken in the products by major retailers. “It shows the relevance of our business model and gives us confidence in the future,” he said.