New materials create new challenges

Manufacturers of consumer goods have to adapt their packaging: Recycling-friendly design is a central requirement of the new Packaging Act. Under the title “New plastics – Is the packaging industry ready?”, FachPack experts discussed the topics of (mono) materials, machines and recycling in front of more than 100 listeners in the TechBox Forum on the first day of the fair.

“The topic of sustainable packaging concepts has not been important for years, but now there is ‘chaos’ because very few are prepared. 2019 is the first year in which we earn money with our expertise of the last ten years”, says Peter Désilets, Managing Director of pacoon GmbH, Agency for Packaging Design and Sustainability. His company advises companies on how to make packaging more sustainable. Only since this year, he says at FachPack, have the companies also come to workshops and received targeted training.

Whether recyclable materials, which can replace previous non-recyclable multilayers, or other approaches such as compostable, plastic-reduced materials such as fibre-plastic mixes: “They will increasingly come onto the market, says Désilets. However, the know-how of medium-sized companies and even many large companies about the possibilities is still very limited. “With only a few exceptions, there is no knowledge in the retail sector either.

“The industry is driven by the trade’s demands for recyclability for its own brands – even if only a few German retail chains have officially stated this as a goal. The brand manufacturers lack a clear strategy and decision as to which path they would like to take for their own brand. Only when this happens will there also be specifications for the production of private labels. And this would enable brand owners to position themselves and differentiate themselves. The subject of recyclate, for example, hardly plays a role in retailing, with the exception of the drugstore chain dm, says Désilets. He criticizes that the focus is on savings in packaging and not on the entire process. “For all of them, the focus is still on the last tenths of a cent savings – the 10 to 20 percent savings that would result from process optimization are not even considered because it is a more complex and cross-departmental process.

“Plastic packaging has an image problem”.

Christina Schulz, Project Manager Sustainability, Quality and Environment of Duales System Holding GmbH & Co. KG confirms that packaging manufacturers increasingly want to expand the recyclability of their products. “They are now also coming to us with questions on this subject. That was not the case before”. And she continues: “We must take advantage of the opportunities offered by the environmental service branch: This starts with Design4Recycling”. Plastic packaging would have an image problem, because in some cases it would be much more difficult to recycle it than others. This is also due to the design and composition of the packaging. “The goal is therefore to make the material recyclable, to save resources and to avoid waste. However, this can only be achieved if the packaging is designed accordingly. “Without recyclable packaging, we cannot achieve the high recycling targets for plastics. Recycling management saves CO2, conserves valuable resources and creates sustainable jobs. Those who ignore this potential act short-sightedly.”

Niklas Rad, Team Leader Material Development at RPC Bebo Plastik GmbH explains: “In addition to the technical and legal requirements for plastic packaging, the aspect of sustainability is becoming increasingly important. As a manufacturer of packaging, it is important to develop technical solutions for the various approaches to improving sustainability. It is also important to advise our customers in order to find the best solution for the respective application. 80 percent of our customers are concerned with recyclability”.

Kurt Stark of film manufacturer Buergofol GmbH has a critical opinion on the subject of new plastics. Monofilm is without question very easy to produce and recyclable. “However, our side has strong doubts that it will be able to fully meet the previously known and expected requirements of our customers. In concrete terms: Our customers are not satisfied with monomaterial. This means that mono films can only be used in exceptional cases and exactly where it makes sense. “

Stark: Food manufacturer against the use of recycled materials in packaging

Stark calls for a distinction to be made between the areas of application for the use of recyclate. According to Stark, the use of recyclate in non-food packaging is much easier, as less emphasis has to be placed on safety aspects. “For the famous and often cited application in the “park bench” or the “flower pot”, recyclate can obviously be used without further ado. But that is of course not enough. The use of films with recycled material is conceivable wherever human safety and health are not impaired”. Here he could imagine applications in the construction sector and in other industrial and technical applications where people do not come into contact with the film or its contents. In the food sector, the application is difficult because quality and durability are important and monofilms cannot guarantee them. “In practice, the use of recyclate will also make certain compromises in quality. The more often the recyclate is circulated and recycled, the more this will become apparent”.

About the sense and nonsense of compostable bioplastics

Furthermore, it is useless to use recyclable material if the consumer does not disassemble the packaging parts before disposing of them, says Stark.  Does bio-plastics create new problems? Which bio-plastics have a perspective? asks moderator Susanne Blüml.  “Compostability is nonsense. Renewable raw materials are in demand,” says Stark. At this point, some of the panelists agree with him. “The compostability of bio-plastics is the worst recycling solution,” says Schulz. When consumers say compostable, they also mistakenly think that the packaging can be disposed of in garden compost, meaning industrial compost. From an image perspective, however, compostable is a positive quality that manufacturers want to be aware of, interjects agency boss Désilets. He calls for a specific name to be given to the type of bioplastics. Finally, however, he also says: “Germany is not the market for compostable bioplastics.

The Central Packaging Register Foundation publishes an annual “Minimum Standard for Measuring the Design of Packaging for Recycling”. This is criticised by companies such as Buergofol and Südpack, which produce multilayer film packaging with functional polyamide layers. They demand from the Federal Environment Agency, the Central Packaging Register Foundation and the Federal Government a different labelling of flexible films with polyamide layers. The minimum standard indicates that flexible films with a polyamide layer are incompatible with recycling. This gives the impression that these films are not environmentally friendly, Stark criticizes. As a film manufacturer, he could not do anything with these specifications. He demands clearer guidelines from politicians. They will come, says Schulz. However, the question is whether they want more bans.

Background: According to legal regulations, the Stiftung Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister must publish a “minimum standard for measuring the recyclable design of packaging” by 1 September each year in agreement with the Federal Environment Agency. The addressees are the dual systems, which have to calculate the system participation fees on the basis of this minimum standard. Upon request, Matthias Fabian, head of the “Implementation of the Packaging Act” department at the Federal Environment Agency, explains that the minimum standard is intended solely to determine the recyclability of packaging typically generated as waste by private end consumers, which is usually collected via the collection of the dual systems and then sorted and recycled by the systems. Recyclability is a gradual characteristic which can only be determined for specific packaging as a whole and which must be determined under the actual market conditions for packaging waste. In this respect, it is essential that suitable sorting and recycling paths exist for packaging in practice, explains Fabian. He emphasises: “Other aspects of ecological packaging design are not covered by the minimum standard in accordance with the legal requirements”.

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