Study on Fiber-Based Packaging Shows Requirements for Recycling
2/9/2024 Sustainability New Paths Design Machinery Change Innovative Processes Article

Study on Fiber-Based Packaging Shows Requirements for Recycling

Fiber-based packaging is becoming increasingly important in the packaging industry. When packaging their products, manufacturers of food and consumer goods are increasingly turning to these materials, which have integrated barriers to protect the goods but also present obstacles to recycling. A new study has examined the issues surrounding the design of packaging for recycling technology.

Cocktail tomatoes are packed in fiber-based packaging. Paper and plastic as materials for vegetable packaging: fiber-based packaging protects food, but is also a challenge for recycling.
Fiber-based packaging is often classified as waste paper and frequently ends up in the wrong garbage cans. They contain plastic coatings or polymer films to protect the products, but these materials also make recycling more difficult. The paper industry is required to innovate and develop new disposal and processing methods for fiber-based packaging in order to achieve the highest possible proportion that can be recycled. Propakma GmbH investigated these barrier requirements in a new study commissioned by the waste management company Veolia and the Forum Rezyklat. The aim of the project was to classify the barrier packaging and its design in relation to the processing technology and possible obstacles for recycling. The new study is intended to provide packaging producers with a basis for product design, the collection and sorting concept, and the design and operation of recycling processes.
Dr. Arne Krolle stands at a metal railing. Dr. Arne Krolle, Senior Project Manager at Propakma, is a paper engineer with over 30 years of experience in the international paper industry.

Design Guide as a Basis

As one of the starting points of the study, Arne Krolle, paper engineer and Senior Project Manager at Propakma, cites the design guide for fiber-based packaging published by the cross-industry Alliance 4evergreen in spring 2022. Krolle considers the application of the design guide for the production of fiber-based packaging and the assessment of the transfer of substances to water to be a correct but incomplete approach. The guide only refers to suitability in a standard treatment process, explains Krolle in the study. However, standard processes in the treatment of waste paper are only suitable to a limited extent or only have limited possibilities. In addition, adapted reprocessing technology is essentially only established for used liquid cartons.

Still Technical Deficits

According to the current state of the art in waste paper processing, it is not possible to implement targeted countermeasures in real time to stabilize the stock-water cycles and optimize the use of chemical additives, the energy input, and production. An ideal barrier would require complete filming or adequate impermeability for product protection, but also recyclability with criteria such as sortability, removability, microbial stability, surface charge, thermal behavior, and hydrophobicity. However, these requirements cannot currently be implemented. According to the study, the selection of materials, the polymer mixture and stability against swelling, abrasion, water solubility, and mechanical fraying are important when using a barrier.

Minimum Standard Still Lacking

However, certainty regarding the sustainability of product development is limited for packaging manufacturers until the criteria for recyclability are harmonized. According to the analysis, the necessary expansion of the requirements in the minimum standard and in European legislation will only be implemented in future industrial standards. According to Krolle's estimates, the version of the test procedure for recyclability (CEPI method) updated by the European Confederation of the Paper Industry (CEPI) in October 2022 is to be integrated into the minimum standard in Germany this year. However, there is not yet a precise timetable, including for the launch of a Europe-wide method.

Important Role of Consumers

The study offers insights for the design for recycling and the recycling cycle of fiber-based packaging, explains Guido Adomßent, COO of the Veolia Umweltservice Group. This would make it easier for packaging manufacturers to differentiate between the various materials. In addition to changes and innovations in sorting and recycling technologies Consumers continue to play the main role. It is up to them to separate the waste materials and dispose of them in the appropriate containers. This is the only way to get the packaging into the appropriate waste streams.