Pioneering proof of concept to help close the loop for digitally printed pouches

Pioneering proof of concept…

Within a cooperation project the key industry players Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics (P&SP), a business unit of Dow (NYSE: DOW), HP Indigo, Cadel Deinking and Karlville together with Reifenhäuser, announce the successful delivery of the first-of-its-kind pouch-to-pouch mechanical recycling concept.

The approach uses a multi-stage process to contribute to a circular economy for digitally printed pouches. Starting with a polyethylene (PE)-based barrier food pouch designed for recyclability, the project team have used mechanical recycling and deinking to create a high-quality dishwasher MDOPE pouch containing 30 percent recycled contents and being itself suitablefor recycling.

In a next step, the team is working on the digital product passport R-Cycle to allow for recycling-relevant packaging properties to be recorded and to make the pouch identifiable for high-quality recycling within post-consumer waste management.

Optimal recycling output

Delivering the high-quality PE-pouch has required several steps in a coordinated process with each team member applying their experience and capabilities collaboratively: “The requirements for plastic packaging products have never been more complex than today. And we have modified and enhanced our Reifenhäuser production lines to enable films and packages not just to be economical and functional, but to meet the vast demand for recyclable packaging based on mono-material structures”, commented Ralf Wiechmann, Head of Film Innovation at Reifenhäuser. “For this project we’ve broadened our machinery expertise to co-extrude the new resins on our highly flexible EVO 9-layer blown film line and produce PEbased packaging films at fast line speeds. This project shows that we can successfully both produce recyclable packaging, according to Recyclass and CEFLEX guidelines, and use recycled materials in high value applications if we collaborate effectively along the value chain.”

Next step: closing the loop for traceability

As a further evolution of the project, the companies are working to add digital traceability to the pouches in line with R-Cycle, a cross-company initiative to develop an open and globally applicable traceability standard for sustainable plastic packaging. The aim of this initiative is to automatically record recycling-relevant packaging properties during production by providing a digital product passport and to pass them on through the value chain. Using special markings, recycling-friendly packaging can then be identified in the recycling process and sorted into single-type fractions. This is the key to obtaining high-quality recyclates in order to continue efforts to close the loop. R-Cycle is being driven by several major stakeholders in the plastics industry, including Reifenhäuser, which is contributing the technology to the pouch-to-pouch concept.