Krishna Reddy, head of R&D and Sustainability at Polyplex Corporation, explains the latest developments of TPL.
The EU has stipulated that by 2030 all plastics placed on the EU market must be either reusable or can be recycled in a cost-effective manner. Are PET films fulfilling this demand?
If we consider post-industrial films, PET is generally one of the easiest products to recycle. The challenge is how to recycle/reuse the post-consumer films, particularly as a lot of it is used in multilayer products (MLP). Thanks to the compatibilizer technologies, granules made from MLP waste with PET have many downcycled end-of-life applications. The proof of concept is well established with PET-based MLP. They can be injection or extrusion moulded to produce different articles in the same way as Polyolefins.
Polyplex and TPL are propagating solutions based on R-PET – what is the advantage in terms of sustainability?
The unique advantage of R-PET is that it is the only food packaging film that at the same time contains a high amount of post-consumer recyclate (PCR) and is suitable for direct food contact according to European and US regulations. Thanks to rapid commercialisation of chemical recycling technologies R-PET in packaging fulfils one of the objectives of the circular economy, namely reducing the use of fossil resources giving the tremendous advantage of CO2 footprint.
We are today producing regularly PET films with 70% PCR content, but up to 90% is available on demand. This is an enormous advantage of R-PET films over any other plastic film type. It is astonishing that many in the industry are concentrating on Polyolefin solutions, while for food packaging these films do not contain any amount of PCR recyclate.
Does the use of your RPET films mean any compromise on the quality of the products?
Not at all. Reducing the impact on the environment while maintaining the performance of the packaging is essential. It is important to note that replacing PET films with R-PET films does not change the barrier level or any other functional characteristic. There is no compromise on quality or performance. Unlike other plastics, production of BOPET through chemical recycling is without any significant performance challenge thanks to high-quality R-PET virtually indistinguishable from its virgin counterpart. It is totally food safe.
But how can you assure that the R-PET film complies with regulations for direct food contact while other film types do not achieve this?
The development of Polyplex’ R-PET films was made possible thanks to investments in chemical recycling. This technology consists of depolymerization of post-consumer bottle flakes to monomers and a further polymerisation to virgin PET resin suitable for extrusion in BOPET films. The BOPET films produced with this technology are suitable for direct food contact in accordance with USFDA and European legislation. R-PET films from Polyplex/TPL are safe for the consumer.
I understand that you are mainly using PCR from the bottle industry. Aren’t you taking away recyclate that would otherwise be used again for bottles?
Today, only a small amount of post-consumer bottle flakes can actually be used for producing new bottles. A large part is ending up in textiles or trays. However, even with these applications, there is a huge gap between the number of bottles that could be collected from consumers and the amount used for these applications. Worldwide forecasts show that even in 2025 the gap between availability and consumption would be several times the total global production of PET films. Therefore, every kg of bottle grade flakes that turns up in PET films reduces the use of fossil resources and no change in this trend is visible.
Chemical recycling is a rather new technology. Will it be possible to satisfy the upcoming demand for R-PET?
We have been investing already at a very early stage in this process and currently have a capacity to produce around 6’000t of recycled resins per year in our own installations. A further expansion of 9’000t is under construction for the first half of 2020 and further expansion plans in all our locations are being made. Therefore, we are ready to support our customers on the way to a more sustainable future.
What advantages do PET films have in general?
Bi-oriented polyester (BOPET) films are known for their exceptional mechanical properties, transparency, gloss and high-temperature resistance and above all for their barrier properties which allow increasing shelf life very substantially. For this reason, they have a very important impact to reduce food waste. This, in turn, means that thanks to PET films a lot less natural resources are being used.
What R-PET film types are available?
All films in the Polyplex range can be produced with PCR. The production in an industrial scale of these films has already started. Various types of 70% PCR PET films are available from TPL’s distribution stock in Antwerp (BE) for delivery within a few days all over Europe. For a brand owner, this change can be implemented immediately without any modification in the packaging structure
What other initiatives for sustainability do you propose?
The production of R-PET films is one of the aspects of the holistic approach of sustainability promoted by Polyplex and TPL. Other initiatives such as the use of renewable resources for polyester film production (plant PET) or the reduction of film thickness (light-weighting) support this approach.