Recycling, Recovery and potentially enabling Technology
Flexible Packaging’s very low pack to product ratio’s means that most often, even with no recycling, the flexible pack uses less material than an equivalent alternative packaging which can be/is highly recycled. A PTIS study done for FPA on coffee packaging showed that recycling a rigid plastic coffee jar (56g) at 50% or a metal coffee tin (98g) at 80%, still loses more packaging material than an equivalent 11g flexible laminated coffee pouch with zero recycling!
This does not mean that flexible packaging cannot be recycled! Flexible packaging can be and is recycled in several European countries although still not widely. However, new technologies to recycle even the most complex laminated material structures are continuously being developed and improved. We (FPE) actively track the progress of the most promising of these so we can encourage more countries to collect and recycle flexible packaging.
And even where recycling is not (yet) possible, the energy embodied in flexible packaging is ideally recovered by a clean burning Waste-To-Energy incineration facility to produce electricity and heat. Where the flexible packaging being incinerated contains an aluminium foil layer for increased barrier, only a part of this aluminium is oxidised into energy. The remaining aluminium melts and can be recovered from the incinerator “bottom ashes” at the exit of the incinerator using Eddy Current technology. (Click for more details)
Note: The primary purpose is to stimulate innovation and does not imply that FPE has trialled or endorses any of them as commercially proven systems.
Enval – Microwave Pyrolysis
Enval have developed a process where mixing shredded waste is mixed with carbon, a highlymicrowave-absorbent material. The energy from the microwaves is transferred to the waste by thermal conduction from the carbon, providing both a very efficient energy transfer mechanism and a highly reducing chemical environment. The process recovers 100% of the aluminium present in the laminate clean and ready to recycle, and produces oils and gases suitable for fuel for steam/electricity generation or for use as chemical feedstock in other processes.
Pellenc – Fine Sort (High speed sorting of plastic flakes)
Once the layers of different materials are separated from each other, a method is required to sort the different material flakes eg PE, PET, alufoil etc. from each other. To be valuable as a secondary material, the resulting sorted streams needs to be as “pure” as possible and, ideally, sorted into fractions with similar properties.
Pellenc ST have been sorting plastics and other materials for since 2001 with over 1000 of their “sorters” being deployed globally; many in MSW sorting centers. Most recently Pellenc ST have developed the “Fine Sort” platform which targets streams where the flakes are between 4mm – 20mm in size. “Fine Sort” has a capacity of up to 200 kg per hour depending on the material and can differentiate on colour and/or material simultaneously. The basis of the technology is NIR and VIS with accuracies of up to 95% being possible.
Saperatec – Separating the layers
Saperatec has pioneered a proven method by which to separate the individual materials in a multi-material flexible packaging material.
Urban Mining Corp – Sorting the separated layers
Once the layers of different materials are separated from each other, a method is required to sort the different material flakes eg PE, PET, alufoil etc. from each other. To be valuable as a secondary material, the resulting sorted streams needs to be as “pure” as possible and, ideally, sorted into fractions with similar properties eg density, melt flow rate etc.
The Urban Mining Corporation has commercialized a technology called Magnetic Density Separation that has demonstrated the potential to sort these mixed flakes into “pure” streams of single polymer flakes from the shredded rigid mixed plastic flakes. Research is currently underway to see if this can be applied to much smaller flakes such as might be expected from a process like the Saperatec one.