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Circular Packaging for Direct Food Contact Applications

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CIRCULAR FoodPack (Circular Packaging for Direct Food Contact Applications)

Période du rapport: 2021-06-01 au 2022-11-30

CIRCULAR FoodPack aims to facilitate the circular use of plastic packaging addressing the most sensitive product category: Food packaging. This sector contains 87% of all European flexible plastic-plastic multi-layer laminates due to the high requirements for food preservation and safety. However, these multi-material laminates cannot be recycled by state of the art processes, and thus counteract the circular use of food packaging. Recycled polymers from far less demanding mono-film waste fractions under-perform and cannot be reused in food packaging, mostly due to the presence of intentionally and not intentionally added substances.

The project demonstrates the results by producing high-quality recycled polyethylene (PE) at the Technology Readiness Levels of 5-6, using Sensor-Based-Specification (SBS) or Tracer-Based-Sorting (TBS), deinking and thermally assisted deodorization as well as solvent-based or mechanical recycling processes. Innovative designs of recyclable and food-safe mono-material laminates will enable the re-use in high-value film applications, with upcoming food packaging marking with deinkable tracers. This allows a future circular economy of food packaging, if TBS guarantees a sorting of food grade materials. Product characterization, food contact compliance testing, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), Life Cycle Cost Assessment (LCC) and business modelling will support and guide the process developments, upscale and design of the new packagings.

The approach addresses the issues in the sorting, separation and recycling of the multi-layered flexible materials used for food packaging, since innovative sorting and recycling solutions are applied to novel designs being developed. That enables the re-use in the same high-value product sector by removing undesirable substances from secondary raw materials. Addressing the annual 2 Mio tonnes of European multi-layered food packaging, which currently hamper the recycling of 17.8 Mio tonnes of food packaging waste, the expected impact on flexible packaging and food sector is substantial. An interdisciplinary team of 5 research and 10 industrial partners (4 SMEs) will finally implement the new circular economy approach.
The CIRCULAR FoodPack project started in June 2021 (Month 1) and the Reporting Period 1 covers the work performed until November 2022 (Month 18).

In this 18-month period, firstly the investigation and the determination of the material compositions within the European packaging waste streams of France, Belgium and Germany have provided a technical basis for the project. Moreover, the development of tracers for selective sorting of food packaging items from household plastic waste took place, and the tracer integration into novel packaging structures has been tested. Therefore different decontamination technologies like the removal of inks and delamination of laminates, deodorisation and purification or separation of polymers have been investigated. These technologies are combined in so-called "recycling cascades", chosen based on the input waste material and the targeted application. The recyclate quality is being investigated and continuously tested analytically, for the food safety of the recycled materials to be used in the final packaging structures. These results are utilised in order to demonstrate and validate the closed-loop circularity for flexible food, home and personal care packagings. The project has already clearly shown the advanced performance of the tracer-based sorting at scale. The processes developed are being analysed from an LCA perspective. Four production locations are taken into consideration (Sorting, Recycling, Laminate production, and Packaging production sites). Based on extensive data collection from partners, the final social and sustainability assessment of the products will be undertaken with the aim to comply to the local and international laws and societal expectations. Finally, the implementation of an exploitation, innovation and technology transfer strategy has been initiated to protect and leverage the results, and also to develop appropriate communication strategies that will inform the industry and the public on the project results. In this context, a market analysis and consumer interviews on new packaging solutions have already been performed while in parallel 3 key exploitable results have been identified: 1. Sorting and Physical recycling cascades, 2. Post Consumer Recyclates (PCRs) with certified quality, 3. Design for PCR.
Main results achieved so far:
• Waste generation and collection status of mono and multi-layer flexible packaging waste in Europe analysed
• Tracer Based Sorting (TBS) technology reaches 97% sorting purity, and 90% sorting efficiency at scale
• Deinking efficiency reached 92%. Deodorisation for Volatile Organic Compounds is 90% in total (washing + IR technology)
• Functional barrier screening methodology established, promising barriers successfully identified
• Novel flexible packaging designs for sorting, recycling, and re-use in food packaging
• Baseline scenarios defined with consistent flow schemes for the preliminary LCA/LCC
The impact of the project fits well with the aims of the European Circular Economy Strategy and European Green Deal, which are:

a) Increase yield and quality when sorting products made of composite or multi-layer materials:
TBS showed a high potential to increase the yield and quality of the sorted material, as it allows for a very specific sorting. The aim is to distinguish between food and non-food packaging in order to produce new food-compliant secondary raw materials. TBS results are very promising and could be improved by additional size- or colour-sorting steps to achieve <1 % of non-food plastics. The detection is feasible with only a slight adjustment of the optical equipment inside the currently used NIR sorting machines.

b) Increased recycling of raw materials from products made of composite or multi-layer materials, in terms of volume and/or quality:
The project investigates several pre- and post-treatment processes to achieve recyclates with high purity. The aim is to reach a polymer purity of 99%, with technical quality at a 90% of original raw materials.

c) Reduced use of virgin raw materials:
The aim is to replace at least 70% of one single virgin bulk polyethylene (PE) layer in the flexible laminates with PE recyclates.

d) Increased knowledge on the design for reuse and recycling (“circular design”) of products currently made of composite or multi-layer materials:
The recovered PE recyclates will be used to produce 3 demonstrators for the flexible packaging of coffee, creamer and cocoa powder. By comparing the performance of the demonstrators with current products, an in-depth understanding of the contribution of advances compared to the state-of-the-art will be gained.

e) Increased knowledge on the process environmental footprint, including the net effects on greenhouse gas emissions, of improved sorting, separation and recycling of composite ad multi-layer materials:
Holistic LCA is applied to every step of the new processes and the demonstrators. The processes are selected based on the lowest projected greenhouse gas emissions. Recommendations in terms of product information, tracking and optimal use throughout the lifecycle are provided. Scientific papers will be published with results in comparison to current waste management approaches.
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