A new initiative, launched by BOPET Films Europe and Searious Business, is seeking to address the issue of flexible packaging recyclability. The focus of the new initiative, called Vita Nova, is on flexible mono PET packaging, said the initiative's founders.
Replacing mixed plastic flexible packaging with mono PET solutions would enable better recyclability, improve resource-efficiency and lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions. The plastic flexible packaging solutions commonly used today are challenging to recycle, due to the complex mix of materials, inks and adhesives used in their production.
Most research into the recycling of flexible plastic packaging waste today is focussed on the mechanical recycling of polyolefins. However, this alone is not enough to achieve the EU’s ambitious circularity goals.
Mechanical recycling, while a well-established solution for rigid packaging, is unlikely to be scalable for flexible polyolefin structures, mainly due to the lack of end markets for low-quality, non-food contact recyclate. While feedstock recycling looks promising, it is a high cost and high carbon option and may not always lead to closed loop recycling of plastics back to plastics.
Mono PET structures offer an alternative, according to Nova Vita. PET films are the only commercially available option for the use of food contact approved recycled content and therefore are a key element of delivering on the sustainability goals of the industry. PET’s inherent resistance to contamination and ability to maintain material properties over repeated extrusion cycles make it highly suitable for mechanical recycling, and food-contact approved grades of rPET are already commercially available.
At least 25% of all flexible packaging applications rely on the material properties provided by PET. Using more mono PET structures would open up new end markets for mechanically recycled material, and make monomer recycling - a lower cost and lower carbon form of chemical recycling - a feasible option. Both routes would bring the closed loop recycling of flexible packaging closer to reality.
Like most flexible packaging, PET-films are currently incinerated rather than being sorted and recycled in Europe at scale. This is an issue Vita Nova aims to address.
As Steven Davies, Chair of BOPET films Europe commented:
“Vita Nova comes from the Latin for new life, and this is exactly what we are trying to give to flexible packaging by developing a model for true closed loop recycling. Mono PET structures offer the packaging industry the best in class option in terms of material usage and recycling processes, and are a key element if the industry is to hit the collective goals we have signed up to by 2025”.
To that end, Vita Nova invites interested parties to participate in this important work. Players from throughout the industry, including producers, sorters, recyclers, machine manufacturers and brand owners, are welcome to join.
“We cannot achieve these goals in isolation, and through this Vita Nova initiative we hope to pull together knowledge from across the value chain to improve the circularity of flexible packaging”," said Davies.