Scholle IPN, a global supplier of flexible packaging solutions, and Obbotec, a Netherlands-based plastics firm specialised in advanced recycling solutions, have entered into a partnership with the aim of engineering and testing new methods of advanced recycling for pouches and bag-in-box type flexible packaging. Due to their structure, these types of packaging are notoriously difficult to recycle, making circularity a far-off goal.
As Ross Bushnell, President and CEO of Scholle IPN, noted, the packaging industry has much work to do in order to achieve true circularity. The company already strives to engineer its products to align with the key principles of circular economics: source reduction, material reuse, and recycling and is now looking to new technology to further advance on the road towards greater sustainability.
Obbotec has developed two methods to successfully recycler multi-layer flexible packaging structures: integrated hydro-pyrolysis and selective plastic extraction, known as Hydrocat and SPEX.
“With SPEX technology, or Selective Plastic EXtraction, we employ a dissolution process to recycle in a circular manner,” explained Wouter van Neerbos, Chairman of Obbotec. “We create a plastic-to-plastic system using both PE and PP materials, delivering high-quality yields while using minimal energy throughout the process. Our SPEX method of recycling can even deal with the most difficult materials like mixed plastics, multi-layer films, laminates, and foils; upgrading the resulting material into near-virgin plastic granules again."
As a technology, selective plastic extraction falls somewhere between true chemical recycling and mechanical recycling. The process is, in fact, a physical one: the molecular structure remains unchanged as no depolymerisation occurs, as it would were this a truely chemical approach. The solvents dissolve the plastics, after which these are separated out, washed and reprocessed into highly pure regranulate.
On the other hand, Obbotec’s Hydrocat Technology, is a third-generation hydrocracking process, which turns a mix of biological and plastic waste into distillates such as marine gas oil (MGO) and naphtha crude oil. “Hydrocat helps us take products which might normally end up in landfills and turn them into useable fuel products,” said Van Neerbos.
Scholle IPN and Obbotec have already begun sharing important scientific data and will soon begin joint trials that push a wide range of film and fitment products through these exciting technologies.
“The resulting analysis will help both companies develop next-generation solutions that can truly move the needle toward a circular economy in flexible packaging,” concluded Ross Bushnell.