Visitors to K 2019 were not just looking at innovative machines. That’s no longer a sufficient purpose for the event since brand owners and packaging converters who visited the fair are daily facing disapproval and increasing regulation in their home markets. Consumers, governments, and even packaging converters everywhere have woken up and are looking for alternative materials and methods of packaging recycling to avoid land-fills.
The issue is price – do we want cheaper and cheaper packaging now, or do we want to responsibly source raw materials and packaging processes to avoid the blight and heavy price of land-fills and elaborate clean-ups that is already upon us? Moreover, since the industry does not address even the high cost of a deteriorating environment on time, legislation becomes essential. When governments threaten to ban the use of single-use plastics, the industry has no choice but to bring recycling systems and solutions to the show rather than just their innovative and more efficient equipment.
Both Bobst, while it talked about its new CI flexo press or W&H when it demonstrated its highly automated blown film line at K, showed packaging samples developed in collaboration with polymer and additive suppliers. Customers need complete systems and solutions for producing flexible film pouches that are recyclable laterally into products with equal value.
PE hot at K 2019
Polyethylene is one of the most favored recyclable materials at K in numerous stands, including those of Bruckner, Bobst, Hosokawa Alpine, W&H, and of course, polymer suppliers such as Dow and Exxon Mobil. The early adopters of PE in India, such as SB Packaging and Parakh Flexipacks, stand vindicated. The global packaging companies in India, such as Constantia-Parikh and Amcor, also endorsed the increased use of PE with recently set up plants dedicated to PE flexible packaging.
An education at Dow
A visit to the Dow stand at K was an educative beginning in sustainable polymers for packaging. Knowledgable experts and scientists called ambassadors to answer inquiries and questions. One of these, Shaun Parkinson, senior research scientist Packaging & Specialty Plastics at Dow, responded to our questions on some of the innovations shown, in great detail.
When asked how the appropriate moisture and oxygen barrier properties are created using PE-PE laminates, Parkinson explained that when a small quantity of EVOH (below the permissible limit of about 5% for recyclables) is used with the addition of a Dow manufactured stabilizer, it does not become lumpy or cause unevenness in the recycled laminate. The use of a small amount of EVOH and the stabilizer with PE yields recycled material that can be used for high-value products. An example shown was a good quality shopping bag.
Bear Naked recycle ready standup pouch
Parkinson showed us a recycle ready standup food pouch – the result of a collaboration between Kellog’s, Berry, and Dow, already in commercial use in the United States. The pouch is designed for recyclability using a PE-based coex film. An inside layer that contains less than 5% EVOH imparts oxygen and moisture barrier properties. With the use of a Dow stabilizer, this amount of EVOH can easily be recycled into a polymer that can be used to made a high-quality film. The role of the stabilizer is to prevent the EVOH turning into lumps that could either cause breaks or lack of smoothness in the recycled film or laminate.
Renewable sources for PE
Renewable sources can also be used for making PE. A byproduct of paper manufacturing when wood chips are cleaned to make pulp is a brown liquor or liquid (lignin) that can be distilled to produce naphtha. From naphtha, ethylene, and hence polyethylene is produced for making PE films and laminates.
What was clear at K is that many of the myths about the use of single polymer of PE for flexible packaging, either aesthetic or functional, are just that. The exhibition was rife with film and laminate systems and solutions that can create valuable recycled materials from flexible packaging using the right ingredients.