Material reduction and new resin grades are one route to success
By Robert Grace
Charting end-of-life options for plastics packaging begins at the front end of the process, in the design stage, according to Fabio Peyer, Amcor Ltd.’s sustainability director.
Speaking on the second day of SPE’s virtual ANTEC® conference, Peyer took attendees through some of the history of the PET bottle, as an example. Compared to the heavy, multimaterial, nonrecyclable PET bottles of the 1990s, today’s equivalent is about 35 percent lighter and recyclable.
Flexible plastics packaging needs similar advances, he noted, and much effort is being expended on that front.
“You start by fixing the design of the package,” said Peyer, who has worked for more than 11 years at Amcor, a $12.5 billion global maker of rigid and flexible plastics packaging. He traced some of the many collaborative projects that are tackling the challenge of making flexible plastics more recyclable, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Project Barrier and efforts by CEFLEX, a collaborative initiative in Europe that represents the value chain of flexible packaging.
This is, of course, a complex undertaking, involving materials producers, packaging equipment makers, film producers and converters, brand owners and retailers, waste collectors and sorters, consumers, recyclers, regulators and more.
Materials choice is vital during the design process, and for flexible packaging there is a strong preference for mono-material solutions, particularly polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), Peyer said. He noted the previous widespread use of oriented PET (OPET) in the exterior layer of multilayer structures, as it provided excellent heat resistance for sealing and dimensional stability for printing. But it prevented mechanical recycling. And the use of many types of barrier layers also inhibited recyclability.
These challenges have led Amcor to develop a range of all-polyester film products called AmPrima. The company describes these as “recycle-ready solutions with no compromise on performance.” Amcor introduced this portfolio a couple of months ago, Peyer said, with AmPrima PE being the standard line, and AmPrima PE Plus offering ultraclear properties and high heat resistance.
Additionally, he said, beyond recyclability, these products offer significant other environmental benefits, including a 60 percent reduction in non-renewable energy use, a 46 percent reduction in carbon footprint and an 18 percent reduction in water consumption, compared with the incumbent oriented PP film. All of this, and AmPrima PE Plus still runs at a machine speed equal to OPET, Peyer noted.
Much work remains to be done, he concluded, but significant progress is being made.