As part of responsible product design, we are committed to continuously improving the environmental performance and functionality of barrier paper packaging. As part of this commitment, we are developing the next generation of recyclable paper packaging solutions together with our R&D partner DELSCI.
Sustainable packaging has to offer maximum functionality with the best possible product protection. At the same time, it must not cause damage to the environment while supporting the principles of a circular economy. In the first part of our recycling series, we looked at why recyclable paper packaging is vital to the circular economy. Now, we dive into the exciting opportunities of recyclable barrier paper packaging for food and consumer goods products.
We design lightweight barrier paper packaging for a range of food and consumer goods products.
easily recyclable materials are vital to reduce waste and pollution
One of the key elements of the circular economy is recycling and its role in keeping materials in the production cycle. Unfortunately, large amounts of packaging produced today cannot be recycled.
A demanding part of the recycling process is sorting; separating different layers as each type of material requires specific process conditions to be recycled. This is especially challenging for the flexible packaging sector where layers are often added to packaging to give the packaging additional functionality. This type of packaging is called composite packaging. Composite packaging is made of two or more layers of different materials that cannot be separated by hand and form a single integral unit.
Many countries do not have the necessary recycling systems and processes in place to recycle complex laminates. Therefore, composite packaging is often not recycled.
While composite packaging has taken over the industry with attractive features that protect packaged products and increases their shelf life, it has also created an obstacle in our movement toward the circular economy.
base papers need to work in unison with barriers to facilitate recycling
Paper alone cannot provide sufficient functionality for many packaging applications. Barriers are necessary to allow for the required performance against oxygen, aroma, fat, and water vapor. Fiber-based packaging is often laminated with other materials such as plastic or aluminum. These barriers make recycling difficult or impossible and this packaging often ends up in incineration or landfills. Therefore, the optimal solution is barrier paper, which will offer the required functional benefits, without negatively affecting the recyclability of the packaging.
It is therefore essential to not only produce a great base paper but also apply a functional coating that allows the final product to be easily recycled. Such paper packaging facilitates recycling and provides options for companies looking into substituting their multi-material packaging options.
building a better base and a better barrier
Thankfully, our R&D specialists and paper technologists are innovating to balance shelf life, product safety, and environmental impact. Our goal is to develop packaging that eliminates the need for material separation, increasing the likelihood that the packaging will be recycled. This leads to less packaging waste and less new material that needs to be brought into circulation to meet the demand for materials.
As an alternative to composite packaging, non-composite packaging has emerged as a revolutionary logical and ecological solution. A non-composite is defined in different ways in different countries. The 95/5 rule is currently the strictest definition of what is considered a mono-material and is relevant in Germany. This means that only 5% of the total packaging can consist of a barrier and inks. The barrier cannot be a separate layer but must be intertwined with the base paper. In many European countries, the categorization of a mono-material is between 50/50 and 85/15 and the USA follows the 85/15 threshold.
One way to overcome this is to make the base packaging thicker so that the barrier as a percentage of the whole is less. We believe this is not the right way to do things and goes against the larger objective of reducing packaging waste and creating sustainable solutions.
Developing such a thin and functional coating requires a very high level of innovation and expertise. The better performance a base paper has, the less coating material it needs to be functional. This is why it is essential that packaging base papers be high quality and be designed specifically for different use cases.
Developing thin and functional barriers requires a very high level of innovation and expertise.
flexible paper packaging for a circular economy
Developing non-composite paper packaging with functional barriers is no simple task, there are many factors that need to be considered to make the packaging both sustainable and functional. Each layer of multi-material packaging has a specific purpose that now needs to be met by a non-composite material, keeping the desired individual properties.
Some of the key challenges include reaching adhesion, printability, processability, yield, heat-sealability, transparency, and food contact compliance comparable to those of multi-materials. Our R&D department develops specialty paper by considering the required mechanical properties and barrier functions while maintaining the excellent ecological profile of paper, and processability on existing converting and packaging lines.
Developing recyclable and functional packaging is no easy feat but we are embracing the challenge. This is how we revolutionize paper. How do we create the right coatings for our specialty papers? Stay tuned for the next article in our Recyclable Packaging series where we dive into the art and science behind the perfect coating.
DELSCI is a research organization that invents smart paper packaging solutions for food and consumer goods applications. We’re a team of scientists and technologists on a mission to empower people to consume responsibly. This means replacing plastic (wherever possible) with functional paper that works harder than ever before and helps protect the environment and keeps our oceans free of plastic.
Interested in switching to functional and recyclable barrier paper packaging?
We would love to hear from you!
Kirchberger Herwig, Managing Director · DELSCI
Herwig.Kirchberger@delsci.com I +43 7229 776-552