A collaboration between Reifenhäuser, the experts for plastics extrusion, and Comexi, leading provider of packaging machines, is conducting a pilot project for the high-quality recycling of flexible pouches. The collaboration intends to demonstrate that harnessing the R-Cycle concept can optimize the recycling process by storing recycling-relevant production data and affixing a clear ID mark on recycled packages.
“This is the only way to avoid downcycling these applications and achieve a genuine circular economy for plastic packaging.”
Ralf Wiechmann,Head of Film Innovation at Reifenhäuser and project initiator
The project was started by selecting two different film recipes for two different pouch types, both based on PE raw materials only. This makes them much better to recycle than PE/PET laminates that are in common use today. The film was produced on a Reifenhäuser EVO Ultra Stretch blown-film line. REPROFLEX3, global flexographic solutions agency and sustainable pre-press packaging specialist, designed the recycling-friendly pouch layout which is only 30 percent covered with ink. Thus the pouch can be used as high-quality and light-coloured recycled material that is also suitable for the further use as pouch packaging with the same characteristics. Film conversion (printing, lamination and slitting) took place at Comexi, a provider of complete solutions for conversion into flexible packaging. This solution integrates the latest developments for sustainable Gelflex Inks from Wikoff and a highly energy-saving electron-beam dryer from ESI. The actual pouches are produced by Wolf Verpackungsmaschinen.
The secret during production is to store recycling-relevant data from each production step so that they are available for the sorting process before recycling. With the present state of the art, a sorting plant equipped with customary NIR sensors is only capable of scanning the surface of a packaging and sorting it in predefined fractions (e.g. PE, PP, mixed plastics, drink cartons). However, in the past, information about the exact contents of the packaging, the various plastic layers, the printing ink, and the adhesive contained in the packaging has remained with each producer along the process chain.
Since the two pouch types are now marked by an individual, machine-readable ID, the sorting plant can even allocate the PE pouches to two different recycling fractions. To the end-consumer the code in the mark printed on the packaging is invisible. The result? High-quality recyclate based on clean sorted recycling fractions can now be recovered to make high-quality products.
Ralf Wiechmann adds, “R-Cycle really becomes interesting when current developments are applied to post-consumer waste – developments such as de-inking, solvent-based sorting of PA in PO packaging or large-scale chemical recycling. When that happens, R-Cycle will be able to provide special fractions for specific recycling.”