The End-of-Life Challenge for Flexible Packaging - Multilayer Films, Barrier Structures and Pouches.

The End-of-Life Challenge for Flexible Packaging - Multilayer Films, Barrier Structures and Pouches.

Terence Cooper
Sustainable Solutions

The End-of-Life Challenge for Flexible Packaging - Multilayer Films, Barrier Structures and Pouches. Dr. Terence A. Cooper, ARGO Group International, Newark, Delaware 19711-4001, USA Flexible packaging is more economical than other packaging formats because of greatly reduced material and energy consumption, and manufacturing and transport costs. Consequently, its use, particularly multilayer barrier films and pouches, has been steadily growing and replacing rigid packaging. However, although it generates much less packaging waste than rigid formats and LCAs show favorable sustainability, it is still being opposed by environmental groups due to difficulties in end-of-life collection, sorting and processing. Because of its multilayer construction, and often food-waste contamination, post-consumer flexible packaging is not readily mechanically recyclable and is presently generally landfilled. Consequently, there have been adversarial campaigns by environmental groups pressurizing food companies to organize take-back systems for flexible packaging or stop using it altogether. Against this, to eradicate landfilling, the food, packaging and recycling industries and associations are developing new flexible packaging materials and designs, collection and sorting systems, and recycling and recovery processes; are instituting take-back systems; and are working to educate consumers that mechanical recyclability and sustainability are not synonymous and that its eco-friendliness and sustainability lie in its minimal materials and energy use and reduction in waste of packaged products, particularly food. New packaging systems facilitating mechanical recyclability will be described, including: diminution of number of polymer types and layers; incorporation of compatibilization technology; use of barrier adhesives and coatings to replace laminate layers; and application of non-stick coatings to reduce waste contamination. Collection, sorting, recycling and recovery processes under development and early-stage deployment will also be surveyed, including: economic methods for film layer separation and recovery, including incorporated metal foil or paper; waste-to-energy systems such as anaerobic and plasma pyrolysis; and pyrolytic waste-to-fuel and waste-to-chemicals operations.