Forward-thinking manufacturers and suppliers of packaging are continually looking for environmentally friendly solutions to keeping goods safe on the move and in storage.
This is vital both in terms of demonstrating a commitment to protecting the planet and in satisfying the needs of increasingly eco-aware customers.
The field of recycled cardboard has seen a massive amount of activity in the last decade, but plastics and film have long presented a more problematic dilemma. The good news for businesses wanting to keep both the Earth and their products safe, however, is that major breakthroughs are being made. The emergence of these products may not be as dramatic as their cardboard cousins, but there is no doubt that eyes are firmly focused on the future of these materials.
One of the forerunners in the process is Herbold Meckesheim GmbH, working with EREMA, which designed a Poligroup model plant, based in Bulgaria. Here high-quality film is being created using solely post-consumer waste.
This film is being made from LDPE waste (from film formerly used in agricultural processes such as crop forcing and silage wrapping), LLDPE waste (used in agriculture for wrapping bales) and household film waste taken from automatic sorting plants.
This is a complicated process, as the recycling methods depend on the specific type of waste used. There are factors such as contamination to consider, particularly with agricultural film, when the amount of contaminants entering the washing phase can be as high as the proportion of film itself. This is mainly sand, but pebbles and screws can also enter the production line. Poligroup uses a pre-washing section to tackle this problem
The advantage of this type of film, however, is that it is almost always the exact same raw material — unlike when it comes to dealing with household waste. The separation of plastics and the disposal of unwanted materials are important. Herbold uses a hydro-cyclone separation technique which separates the plastics that weigh less than water from those that weigh more. The required polyolefin is lighter and so can be easily separated, whilst the process also helps to remove unwanted deposits.
Film waste from supermarkets is a good source of LLDPE, but there are problems associated with this, not least the number of paper labels that have to be removed before the process can progress. The key to the success of this market, therefore, lies with manufacturers being able to source affordable waste materials whilst balancing the need for preparation and transportation. This is especially important given that the quality of the end material will largely depend on the waste available for recycling.