Recyclability of Plastic
There’s a lot of media attention about environmentally friendly plastic packaging and recycled plastic packaging but whether or not films are “recyclable” is a question of definition as there is currently no legislation or regulation that defines what is recyclable.
The guideline that’s used by most UK retailers to show how recyclable packaging is, is called “On-Pack Recycling Label” (OPRL). This has been compiled by members who include large brands and retailers and is intended to communicate packaging recyclability to consumers.
According to these guidelines, in terms of recyclable flexible packaging, the only film based material that can be classified as recyclable is Polyethylene (PE). See page 12 (numbered 8); PE can be marked as “Recycle with bags at larger stores, Check Locally Kerbside”. To be classed as recyclable the packaging must not be metallised or have paper labels attached to them. All other film based materials are not currently recyclable according to OPRL.
Technically anything can be recycled so in theory e.g. a laminated film packaging could be labelled as “recyclable where facilities exists” however it would contradict OPRL and so would a mono OPP film. OPRL defines recyclability based on what is collected by councils. E.g. If >75% of councils collect = “Widely recycled”.
There are many different grades of PE used in food packaging and if Recyclability is a requirement there is a good chance that it can be used in most VFFS- or HFFS applications.
Recyclable film offering from TCL:
- For impulse heat-sealing jaws: “Standard” metallocene LLDPE.
- For constant heat-sealing jaws: LLDPE grade MCP.
Thicknesses down to around 28 microns are available depending on the application. Matt appearance and peelable seals for easy opening is available.
Please contact TCL to explore what grade and thickness of PE material is required.
Recycled material use
Film based packaging intended for food does not generally contain post-consumer recycled material (PCR), i.e. the film materials originate from virgin resin. In the past a small percentage of PCR was offered for some PET based films but these recycled plastic packaging materials are generally not offered now due to the higher cost compared to using virgin materials.
The standard for Compostability is EN 13432:2000. This requires that mixed with organic waste 90% of the product has to be composted within a 12 week period and that the resulting humus created during the composting process is of certain good quality. The max period allowed to complete the whole process is 180 days. An independent laboratory must certify the finished product.
Different test criteria are used whether the material is tested for Home- or Industrial compostability. Home compostability is tested at a lower temperature and over a shorter time than industrial.
As well as the compelling environmental benefits using sustainable raw materials in packaging there are also arguments against using them instead of petroleum based films;
- Cost; like for like they are generally around three times more expensive.
- Not always as efficient and user friendly during packing, e.g. generates more noise.
- Introduces a risk of contaminating the waste stream of other plastics that are due to be recycled.
- Doesn’t compost well in the ocean, so not effective at resolving the issue of marine litter.
The most commonly used materials for compostable food packaging are Polylactic Acid, PLA (Starch based) and Cellulose based films.
Compostable film offering from TCL:
Mono – surface printed for VFFS/HFFS:
- PLA – E.g. Nativia, typically 20 to 30 microns, clear, white or metallised. Potential uses for Salad, Bread, Snacks, Sweets, Tea, etc.
- Cellulose – E.g. NatureFlex, typically 20 to 30 microns, Un-coated sensitive to moisture but comes with many different coatings to cater for different requirements, e.g. barriers, fast sealing etc.
Laminated films – Surface or reverse printed for VFFS/HFFS, compostable adhesive:
- Paper + PLA or Cellulose – surface printed typical thickness 65 microns.
- Cellulose + PLA – Reverse printed typical thickness 35 microns.
It is sometimes possible to reduce the thickness compared to conventional films, minimising the extra cost per bag for a compostable alternative.
One type of film isn’t better (or cheaper) than another in general terms. Each type has properties that make them most suitable for specific areas so please contact TCL to discuss packaging requirements.
Markus Jarvstrom, Technical Director.
For Further information on film alternatives please contact us: